Team Notes week 7 2021

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<

NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss put it: "No coach, no star pass rusher, no coach, no problem.

"Arizona showed in Sunday's 37-14 win over the Cleveland Browns that they are, by and large, a well-oiled machine."

With Kliff Kingsbury out because of COVID-19, they showed they didn't need their head coach. And they showed this is quarterback Kyler Murray's team, and not much may stop them this year. While they had some lulls, Arizona put up 30 points for the fifth time in six games and the defense overwhelmed the Browns.

This was a statement win in a different way. The Cardinals showed there's little that could derail them.

"It was a tough week," said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who co-coached with assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers. "Kliff's entire life, his entire lifestyle, is this team."

His team is still undefeated, now 6-0 after a game in which they not only didn't have their head coach and play caller, but were also missing their quarterbacks coach and three key defensive players. They already were without their starting center because of injuries.

"I said after Friday's practice, when we had the test, I said something to the quarterbacks and Cam (Turner), 'It's going to suck if somebody gets it,'" Murray said. "(And) Kliff and Cam got it.

"Once we got the news, it was more opportunity. It was kind of exciting, to go prove ourselves on the road against a great team. I think you could feel the energy before the game."

As Darren Urban of the team's official website suggested, the outcome didn't look much different than that of the Cards' previous five wins.

Murray threw four touchdown passes. The defense sacked Baker Mayfield five times and created three turnovers. The Cardinals surpassed 30 points for the fifth time in six games.

If it wasn't for a Hail Mary touchdown for the Browns (3-3) at the end of the first half, the game wouldn't have been close.

"Every day was bad news (last week)," Joseph said. "And no one blinked."

Linebacker Chandler Jones went on the Covid list last Tuesday, but fellow linebackers Jordan Hicks and Markus Golden each had two sacks. Defensive lineman Zach Allen went on the Covid list Friday and fellow defensive lineman Corey Peters went on Sunday morning - and J.J. Watt had another excellent game with his first sack, and veteran Jordan Phillips finally got back in the lineup.

"You think about those guys (missing)," Golden said, "But this is the NFL. This is football."

Perhaps then those questions about the offense, with Kingsbury and Turner both absent, never materialized.

Assistant wide receivers coach Spencer Whipple called the plays while consulting with run game coordinator/offensive line coach Sean Kugler, and the Cardinals drove for touchdown on each of their first two possessions.

"When you look to the sideline and didn't see Kliff, it was definitely odd," said wide receiver Christian Kirk. "But the game plan is the game plan."

Joseph called the offensive operation seamless.

"(Whipple) was calm, cool, the whole game. Didn't panic," Murray said. "We made him right."

The Cardinals scored on all five first-half possessions - the other ones ended with field goals - and got in control again late, including turning a fourth-down defensive stop inside their own 10 to a 93-yard, clock-eating touchdown drive that ended with a TD pass to A.J. Green.

And that's worth noting.

Six games into the season, it's clear that Murray is comfortable throwing to any receiver at any time. Green led the team with 79 yards on five catches against the Browns. DeAndre Hopkins has two touchdown grabs. Kirk caught a touchdown pass against the Browns, too.

The Cardinals will have another option soon after adding veteran tight end Zach Ertz late last week in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. Ertz has caught 38 career touchdown passes.

Concerns?

As Associated Press sports writer David Brandt points out, this isn't necessarily a problem for the Cardinals, but for fantasy football owners. Murray isn't running as much.

Those who thought they were getting a true dual-threat quarterback like Lamar Jackson have been disappointed.

Murray ran for 819 yards last season but has just 116 yards through six games in 2021. The 24-year-old quarterback is still using his quickness to make plays, but lately it's been more about buying more time in the pocket for throws instead of running for first downs.

So how long can the Cardinals stay undefeated?

The Cardinals have the hapless Texans next week and then turn around to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football. That may be the most difficult game on the Cardinals' upcoming schedule because after that, Arizona has the 49ers, Panthers and Seahawks before their bye.

Given all that, the main concern for the Cardinals is getting everyone healthy and back on the roster.

Joseph said Kingsbury was "bored" and ready to get back to the office, though he can still handle meetings via Zoom.

"I think everyone is nervous about the COVID issues," Joseph said. "It is a moving target. Obviously, if you have one positive, there can be two or three more. I'm surprised there weren't more. Right now it's a moving target. We'll see what the league gives us this week as far as protocols."

Beyond that, the Cardinals await word on DL Rashard Lawrence (calf) and TE Darrell Daniels (hamstring), but mostly they're trying to work out virus issues and making sure guys can play. ...

One hole that should be fill this week is at tight end.

When Maxx Williams was lost for the season with a knee injury, the Cardinals had a need. Last Friday morning, they filled the need with Ertz, a player with whom the team had been potentially linked since the offseason, sending the Eagles rookie cornerback Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round draft pick. Ertz had 18 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns for the Eagles in six games.

He is a three-time Pro Bowler and made the All-Pro team in 2018. Ertz was teammates with linebacker Jordan Hicks in Philadelphia, and assistant coach Bill Davis also coached in Philadelphia with Ertz.

"He's a complete player," Kingsbury said. "I think you saw Maxx's production continue to increase, and (Ertz) fills a role for us right now. ..."

Matt Prater has had his number called for over a decade. He answered again Sunday.

The Cardinals kicker made all seven of his kicks against the Browns -- three field goals and four PATs. His 13 points contributed to an Arizona blowout and netted him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. ...

One last note here. ... The Cardinals have won their four road games this season by a combined 77 points, nearly 20 points per game. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have managed to keep the deficit under two touchdowns.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley
RBs: James Conner, Darrel Williams, Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin
WRs: A.J. Green, Marquise Brown, Antoine Wesley, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, DeAndre Hopkins
TEs: Zach Ertz, Darrell Daniels, Maxx Williams

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein reminded readers, when Arthur Smith took over as the coach of the Falcons this offseason, one of the principle traits his teams with the Titans carried -- part of what made him an attractive candidate -- was his team's efficiency.

Particularly in the red zone.

No one scored touchdowns in the red zone better than Smith's teams in Tennessee the two years he was the Titans' offensive coordinator.

Translate that to Atlanta and the team Smith is trying to build.

It started poorly -- two red zone possessions in Week 1 leading to two Younghoe Koo field goals.

Since?

Starting in Week 2, Atlanta has scored touchdowns on 78.6 percent of its 14 red zone drives -- fourth in the NFL -- and the Falcons have turned red zone drives into points on all 16 red zone appearances this season, including Week 1. They are one of only five teams to do so through Week 5.

"It's a combination of a lot of things," Smith said. "I think all of our guys know they can get the ball at any time. I've said we're not an isolation basketball team, so it's not like you can just go down there and say, 'Hey, let's double the stars.'

"I think there's a natural progression that happens. Usually your better players emerge, and they'll end up getting more touchdowns, but we really feel like all our guys, they know that they're viable options."

As Rothstein noted, that's particularly because of how the Falcons are approaching the red zone. Unlike when Smith was in Tennessee, when the Titans ran the ball 53.1 percent of the time -- having the NFL's leading rusher in Derrick Henry helps also -- the Falcons are passing 70 percent of the time in the red zone.

Atlanta has targeted eight different players in the red zone over the first five weeks -- none more than rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who has eight targets, two catches, nine yards and one touchdown.

Rothstein went on to note that seven different players have caught passes for touchdowns in the red zone, led by Cordarrelle Patterson's three -- on seven targets. He also leads Atlanta in red zone catches (six) and yards (60). Not surprisingly, Patterson has the best target rate of any Atlanta player in the red zone -- 50 percent of his routes run.

In all, the Falcons have had 12 players run routes in the red zone. Quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 61.8 percent of his passes in the red zone with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

Atlanta has 15 red zone rushes -- 10 for Mike Davis, five for Patterson -- and both Davis and Patterson have combined for the team's two rushing touchdowns.

"We've evolved. We're a lot different than we were in Tennessee," Smith said. "So, I think that you're seeing week over week as we get a feel for this team and they get a feel for us."

In Tennessee, Smith's teams scored touchdowns on 75.2 percent of those drives -- the only team in the NFL to be over 75 percent in 2019-20 combined. In those two seasons, only the New Orleans Saints (83) had more red-zone touchdowns than the Titans' 82.

The byproduct of that was no team made fewer field goals than the nine the Titans made in the red zone in that span, which hurt the team's overall red zone scoring efficiency (83.5). Tennessee had six red zone turnovers in those two years.

So while the ways Smith's teams are producing in the red zone are different in Atlanta than in Tennessee, the result is largely the same.

Efficient. Productive. And more often than not, finishing with touchdowns.

Expecting more of the same as the 2-3 Falcons try to get to .500 against the Dolphins this week doesn't seem like a reach. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Calvin Ridley will return to the team this week.

The star wideout will be at practice this week, Smith told reporters Monday.

The Falcons announced before their trip to London last week that Ridley wouldn't be there because he was dealing with a personal matter. There has been no word on the nature of the personal matter, but the Falcons said they supported Ridley taking time off.

Despite missing a game, Ridley leads the Falcons with 27 catches this season.

As ESPN's Eric Moody noted, Patterson's career renaissance under Smith is breathtaking. Even with Ridley and Russell Gage, who missed two games with an ankle injury but also back at practice this week, set to return against the Dolphins, Patterson should continue to have a defined role.

And if you're wondering about the matchup here. ...

Miami's defense (32) has allowed the fifth-most RB fantasy points this season. Patterson is firmly on the RB2 radar.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison, Damien Williams
WRs: Damiere Byrd, Olamide Zaccheaus, Bryan Edwards, Frank Darby, Auden Tate, Christian Blake, Chris Rowland, Calvin Ridley
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Anthony Firkser

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

John Harbaugh doesn't understand the preseason narrative that this was the year when the league was going to catch up to quarterback Lamar Jackson.

"If you're looking for your headline here, I think the people who make those statements are kind of whistling in the graveyard just a little bit," Harbaugh said Monday. "It doesn't have any meaning. Anybody who knows X's and O's are rolling their eyes when they hear something like that."

In August, people around the league told ESPN: "This might be the year that everybody figures out Jackson."

In leading the Ravens to a 5-1 record, Jackson has been one of the most explosive players in the league, ranking sixth in the NFL in passing (1,686) and seventh in rushing (392). In Sunday's 34-6 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, Jackson set the NFL record for most wins (35) under the age of 25.

Jackson doesn't turn 25 until January 7; thus, he can push the mark as high as 45, given that the Ravens play 10 more games before he officially completes a quarter century on earth.

Whatever the case. Harbaugh said defenses play Jackson and the Baltimore offense differently from other teams. He rarely sees the same scheme from any team that he has watched on tape the previous weeks.

"I don't think once somebody does something -- some X-and-O idea -- all of a sudden that's the answer," Harbaugh said. "We've kind of been saying that for three years now. There is no answer. You've got to play well. You've got to execute. Whoever executes better and makes plays, really, in the end is going to win. It's less about figuring somebody out."

Jackson did take three sacks, losing a total of 27 yards. There are times when his elusiveness may backfire, causing him to try to keep plays alive instead of getting rid of the ball. The Ravens twice stopped the Chargers on downs in San Diego territory, but in both situations settled for field goals.

A sack for a loss of 10 pushed Baltimore back the first time that happened.

Still, that seems like nitpicking at this point. ...

Meanwhile, when asked whether a 28-point victory over another division leader might raise eyebrows around the NFL, Harbaugh admitted it probably would.

"That's OK with me," the coach said. "We like raising eyebrows in a good way."

As Associated Press sports writer Noah Trister suggested, the lopsided result was hard to see coming even after Baltimore won four in a row before this matchup. For much of this season, Baltimore has needed Jackson to be spectacular, but this past weekend, the Ravens controlled the game in so many ways that it was hard to pinpoint which factor was most important.

Baltimore ran the ball at will early on, slowed the Chargers' highly touted passing game, and looked very much like a Super Bowl contender while pushing Los Angeles aside with ease.

Jackson threw for 167 yards and ran for 51. After Baltimore's running backs were nonfactors in a win over Indianapolis, the trio of Latavius Murray, Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman combined for 115 yards on 26 carries against the Chargers, with each scoring a touchdown.

The Ravens brought in those three veterans after J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards went down with major injuries before the season even started.

"To see them do what they did today and what they're going to do for the rest of the season is a pretty cool story," Harbaugh said after the game. "I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out."

Worth noting, however: Murray left Sunday's game with an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return. On Monday, Harbaugh said he didn't have an update right now on his status.

Murray has been the team's lead running back the past three weeks, and he had already posted nine carries for 44 yards against the Chargers, including the game's first touchdown. It was a season-high 4.9 yards per carry for Murray.

Freeman had his best game yet with nine carries for 53 yards and a touchdown and Bell got into the end zone for the first time this year. Baltimore also has Ty'Son Williams available and ready to play.

"We've thrown a lot at them, because there was a lot in our offense, and they've had to learn a lot," Harbaugh said. "But they bring a lot to the table already, in terms of understanding knowledge. They're playing their styles, they're fitting them into our scheme, and they've done a great job - all three of those [veteran] guys. ..."

To that point, the Ravens want to see more of Bell.

After Baltimore used his second of two available standard elevations for Sunday's win over the Chargers, the team has signed Bell to the 53-man roster.

We'll see how it plays out, especially with Murray ailing. The veteran running back did not practice Wednesday. Sammy Watkins, who missed last week's game with a thigh injury, also sat out Wednesday. I'll have more on both players via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Next up, Baltimore hosts another team with a winning record Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) come to town. A win would give the Ravens a two-game lead atop the AFC North. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said he wouldn't throw first-round rookie receiver Rashod Bateman into the fire in his NFL debut, but Bateman ended up playing 45 snaps - just six fewer than Marquise Brown.

Bateman made four catches for 29 yards in his debut, with all four grabs going for first downs.

"To see 45 snaps, it was surprising. There's no question about it," Harbaugh said. "I don't think that was really the plan, either, but he was playing so well. He came out there and just did a great job."

Harbaugh said Bateman has some assignment and alignment things to work out, and coaches will surely be on him this week after a drop led to an interception, but Harbaugh was pleased overall..

"It wasn't too big for him. He handled the speed of the game just fine," Harbaugh said. "So, it's a really good start. ..."

Mark Andrews continued to roll, catching five of his six targets for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Andrews scored from nine yards out in the third quarter for his third touchdown in the past two games. The standout tight end also led the team in catches and receiving yards while sharing the team targets lead with Bateman. Andrews is up to 34 catches for 468 yards and three touchdowns this season heading into Week 7.

The team announced on Wednesday that tight end Nick Boyle has been designated to return from IR.

Boyle hasn’t played since dislocating his knee last November. He had returned to practice in September, but the Ravens put him on IR to give him more time to recover. Now the club has a 21-day window to activate Boyle to the 53-man roster.

In 73 career games with 50 starts, Boyle has 120 receptions for 1,047 yards with four touchdowns. ...

And finally. ... All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley will have another ankle surgery, ending his season early for a second straight year.

Stanley announced the news Tuesday afternoon. He has been officially moved to injured reserve.

Without him, the Ravens have pivoted by shifting veteran Alejandro Villanueva, who was signed this offseason, to his natural left tackle spot and inserting Patrick Mekari at right tackle. Both have stepped up to keep the Ravens offense among the best in the league.

Harbaugh said both tackles were "phenomenal" against the Los Angeles Chargers and said Mekari has played the position "about as well as you could expect it to be played."

The Ravens have also added depth at offensive tackle in recent days, they claimed Brandon Knight off waivers Monday after he was released by the Dallas Cowboys. Baltimore also recently added David Sharpe to the practice squad.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Mike Davis, Latavius Murray, Ty'Son Williams
WRs: Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, James Proche, Miles Boykin
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Though the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills combined for 65 points and 779 yards of offense on Monday, their game very much came down to inches, as it's wont to do in the romantic world of the gridiron.

Trailing by the final score of 34-31, head coach Sean McDermott elected to go for the first down and an opportunity to win in regulation on fourth-and-1 from the Titans' 3-yard line rather than kick a game-tying field goal.

And so, with 22 seconds left on the clock, the Bills and McDermott put the game in the hands of their best player, quarterback Josh Allen, for a QB sneak. Allen appeared to slip moving left and was stuffed by Jeffery Simmons.

Buffalo went for the win and got stuffed. Simmons' tackle led to a kneel down and a thrilling Titans win.

"Give our guys credit, give our staff credit. They tried to walk into one and our guys adjusted quickly without hesitation," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said after the game. "Very, very well-prepared for that and they were able to execute, obviously. The players were the ones that were able to get the push and the penetration but we got down in there as he walked under center."

McDermott gave the Titans credit, too, but despite how it all played out offered no regret or anything but confidence in Allen, whose final play cast a shadow over another sterling night as he threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns.

"At the end of the day, I trust him and I'll trust him again if we're in that situation again," McDermott said. "I'll take [Allen] 10 times out of 10. Give them credit they made the play they had to make when the game was on the line."

The decision was a risky one that ended with the Bills on the wrong end of the final score, but McDermott went with his gut.

"Felt good about our chances. Had a chance to win the game right there and didn't get it done," he said.

And it's really as simple as that.

Per Next Gen Stats, McDermott added 21.3 percent to the Bills' win probability by going for it on fourth rather than kicking it, which would've provided a 42.1 percent win probability as opposed to the 63.4 percent garnered by going for the first down.

Of course, analytics made no matter in the trenches in a battle for inches.

Allen's footing wasn't perfect. Simmons' clutch play pretty much was.

"Didn't work out in my favor, obviously," Allen said. "Didn't have the greatest footing. Happens. Game of inches."

However, Allen was glad to have the faith of McDermott to be given the chance to go for the win.

"I take a lot of pride in it and I love coach McDermott for giving me that opportunity and I have to go out there and prove him right. Sometimes the plays don't go your way," Allen told reporters after the game.

According to Sportradar, the Bills were only the fourth team since 2000 to go for it on fourth down while in field goal range at the 30-yard line or closer down three in the final 2 minutes of a game. The other three all converted: the Jets scored on a 1-yard run against the Bills in 2018 with 1:22 left for a win, the Saints also converted in being Atlanta in 2017, and Tampa Bay beat the Saints in 2008.

The loss snapped a four-game winning streak by the Bills (4-2) heading into their bye. ...

The Bills went into Monday night's game as the league leader in points scored, and against the Titans the point parade continued.

Facing a secondary that was depending on inexperienced cornerbacks, Buffalo's passing attack effectively moved the football putting together five scoring drives of nine plays or more. Those drives led to 31 points marking the fifth time in six games this season that Buffalo has scored 30 points or more.

But Buffalo's offense knew they left points on the table. After going 2-for-5 in the red zone and losing by three points, they felt they failed to maximize their point-scoring potential in what wound up being a high-scoring affair.

"Just not executing, how we should," said Allen, who was 35-47 passing for 353 yards and had both of the Bills red-zone touchdowns on passes. "Ultimately it comes down to execution and it starts with me. So I've got to be better with the ball in my hands and put us in a better position to try to score touchdowns instead of field goals. ... And again with the team like this how good they are, we know that's not going to cut it. So it's something that we've got to focus on and learn from and I've got no doubt that this team will."

With their 31 points, the Bills now have 203 in their first six games, which set a new club record. The previous mark was held by the AFL champion 1964 Bills. They scored 200 points in their first six games.

Still, Buffalo is currently 26th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns on just 55 percent of possessions inside the 20. The Bills were 2-of-5 in the category on Monday night, including Allen's ill-fated QB sneak on fourth down with 22 seconds left in the game.

"It's certainly an area we've got to improve," McDermott said Tuesday, via Chris Brown of the team's website. "We're leaving potential points off the board. Even though quite a few of our wins have been lopsided wins, they could've been even more lopsided, right? Then in last night's game two-for-five [in the red zone].

"As well as we played offensively in the game, the end of the first quarter we're up 6-0. We should've been up 14-zip at that point. Maybe that's a difference in the game. Maybe it's not. Who knows? But don't want to play that game at this point. We've got to do a better job in the red zone execution-wise. There are points to be had there, for sure."

The Bills have their bye in Week 7 then have a string of four matchups against the Dolphins, Jaguars, Jets, and Colts -- a clear opportunity to build an insurmountable advantage in the AFC East. But if Buffalo is to make a deep playoff run, the team will need to take better advantage of all scoring opportunities. ...

Other notes of interest. ... A week after contributing just three receptions between them for a total of 74 yards, the team's two leading receivers from last season rebounded in a big way against Tennessee.

Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley were targeted a combined 20 times against the Titans, registering 16 receptions for 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"Seeing some guys get involved, getting Cole back involved in the offense, the way he played was awesome and we're going to continue to need that going forward," said Allen.

Beasley and Diggs were both instrumental in keeping many of Buffalo's offensive possessions alive. Twelve of the 16 receptions by Diggs and Beasley either moved the chains or put points on the board.

With his seven receptions Monday night, Beasley became the ninth undrafted player in NFL history to reach 500 career receptions. He now has 501 for his career. ...

And finally, on the injury front. ... Tight end Dawson Knox had a starring role in one of the most memorable plays from a wild Monday night game in Nashville and he did it while playing hurt.

After a touchdown catch by tight end Tommy Sweeney late in the third quarter, the Bills dialed up some trickery on a two-point try. Allen flipped the ball to wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie running left, McKenzie flipped it to Knox coming right, and Knox shot putted the ball to Allen all alone in the end zone to give the Bills a 31-24 lead.

It would be the final play of the game for Knox, who was first called questionable with a hand injury and later ruled out of the game. Mike Garafolo of NFL Media reports that Knox broke a bone in his hand ahead of the play.

Knox had successful surgery Tuesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, with the goal of returning to the field as soon as possible. So while there's no firm timeline for Knox's return, the Bills hope he won't be out long. Knox has 21 catches for 286 yards and five touchdowns this season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Case Keenum
RBs: Duke Johnson, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Jamison Crowder, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Tavon Austin, Emmanuel Sanders, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, O.J. Howard, Tommy Sweeney

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

The secret formula for the Panthers this year isn't much of a secret, and head coach Matt Rhule doesn't mind saying it out loud.

According to Panthers.com staffer Darin Gantt, Rhule made it apparent throughout Monday's press conference that the Panthers needed to change the way they're doing offense, because the current method isn't working.

Rhule isn't taking the offensive play calling from coordinator Joe Brady, but he promised a "vastly" different look on Sunday when the Panthers face the New York Giants.

Specifically, he wants to run more often, and take better care of the ball, which should have the downstream effects his quarterback and defense so desperately need after yesterday's overtime loss to the Vikings.

"We're not going to line up and throw it 40 times a game and think that's going to win for us," Rhule said on Monday. "It hasn't. ... So we're going to redefine who we are, and we're going to run the football and we're going to protect our quarterback and we're not going to turn the ball over anymore.

"That's the only way we're going to win."

The Panthers have lost three straight since a 3-0 start. They averaged 31 rushes the first three games compared to 25.6 the past three.

They had only 23 rushes in Sunday's 34-28 overtime loss to the Vikings.

As ESPN.com's David Newton notes, that running back Christian McCaffrey has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury and is out at least the next two after going on injured reserve has been a factor. Many of the short passes that McCaffrey turned into big plays were like runs.

Without McCaffrey, teams have manned up against wide receivers DJ Moore and Robby Anderson and rushed five. That has put more pressure on quarterback Sam Darnold, who has thrown six interceptions over the past three games after throwing only one in the first three.

The Panthers have eight total turnovers during their losing streak, compared to two in the first three games. Rhule noted that all eight came on passing plays.

"If you call 16, 18, 19, 24, 25 runs, you better have an elite passing game," Rhule said. "And right now that's not our strength."

Rhule said the "shame" of Sunday's loss was the Panthers were running well with rookie back Chuba Hubbard, who had 61 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

"We just have not been committed enough to running it," Rhule said. "And that's going to change. I can tell you right now."

The league average for designed rush percentage this season is 37.5 percent. Carolina ranks 26th over the past three games at 33.7, according to research by ESPN Stats and Information.

Rhule said he went into Sunday's game wanting to run 33 times and he'd like to average that moving forward. He didn't blame Brady for the lack of balance.

However, Brady came to Carolina from LSU after helping quarterback Joe Burrow win the Heisman Trophy with 60 touchdown passes in 2019. The run game accounted for 34.1 percent of the offense as the Tigers went undefeated and won the national title.

"Me and Joe are great," Rhule said. "We had a lot of plays [Sunday] he called runs that were killed with a pass with a safety blitz. We're just going to have to find ways of running the football in those situations."

The Panthers also were penalized offensively for calling consecutive timeouts because players either weren't lined up right or were confused by the play call. Rhule called them "egregiously poor plays."

Much of Rhule's emphasis on the running game has to do with protecting Darnold, who has been sacked 12 times the past three games without McCaffrey after being taken down three times in the first two games.

Rhule said he believes more runs and more balance will change that.

"Sam's not playing well enough," Rhule said. "Let's start there."

But Rhule said some of that falls on the staff for not doing a better job of coaching and on players for not performing.

Carolina had six dropped passes on Sunday.

"We need to fix ourselves first," Rhule said. "We don't need to panic. We don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We're 3-3 and we've got to stop turning the football over and stop the run on defense.

"We're going to fix that this week."

Again, he seems to have a pretty good idea of how.

"We've got to give our defense long fields and just play complementary football and have some field position," Rhule said. "I think we can all see when our offense gets into a rhythm, it's at the end of the game two-minute, we get a couple of plays, the tempo wears on people. That's at the end of the game. We need to find a way to be more efficient in the beginning of the game.

"It all goes back to me to protecting the football."

And Rhule made it clear Monday that's the expectation moving forward, starting this weekend when the Panthers will look to bounce back at the New York Giants.

Hubbard investors take note. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Coming off one of his worst days with the Panthers, wide receiver Robby Anderson walked in Monday talking about "accountability."

Anderson had the late touchdown which gave the Panthers the ability to send the game to overtime, but he also had a number of egregious drops during Sunday's loss to the Vikings.

And he owned those mistakes, saying they came down to "simple things," and that he planned to focus this week on correcting the fundamental problems.

Teammate D.J. Moore described Anderson as "pretty upset," and Anderson said that was a fair assessment.

Rhule said the key for Anderson - and extending the point to the whole team - was to avoid the distractions and get back to work, rather than dwelling on the mistakes of last week, which they can't do anything about now.

"I think Robby has to come out and have a great week of practice, a great week of meetings; he has to put aside all the distractions of what happened last week or the week before, and come out and have a great week this week," Rhule said. "Is that really simple? Yes. But it's really hard to do. It's hard for all of our players to do this day and age."

For the record, Anderson caught 3-of-11 targets for 11 yards and a touchdown. He was credited with three dropped passes and obviously didn't maximize his opportunities, but the touchdown was great.

In addition, the target share (nearly 27 percent) snap count (84 percent) were outstanding.

Even with his issues, heading into a bye-heavy week with loads of attrition around the league, fantasy managers could obviously do worse than rolling out a player with a reasonable matchup -- but more importantly, one whose team clearly wants to get him on track. ...

Moore caught 5-of-13 targets for 73 yards against the Vikings. Some uncharacteristic dropped passes in this one notwithstanding, Moore's front-line role in the Panthers' passing attack is enough to make him a strong start any given week. Going up against a Giants' secondary that has underperformed in recent weeks adds to that. ...

Shi Smith got his first action as a rookie, playing eight snaps and making two catches for 20 yards. ...

The Panthers used one of running back Spencer Brown's two elevations from the practice squad last week, but deactivated him for the game. Rhule said the initial plan was to have Brown active as a third back behind Hubbard and Royce Freeman, but with a few offensive linemen dinged up, they made a late decision to keep nine linemen active instead.

Freeman played 23 snaps at running back, his most since joining Carolina this offseason. The fact he only got a single carry is telling and should be noted by Hubbard managers. ...

On the injury front. ... Alex Erickson and fellow wide receivers Terrace Marshall Jr. both sustained concussions, while Brandon Zylstra left briefly with a hamstring injury but eventually returned. Nonetheless, the Panthers placed Zylstra on injured reserve on Tuesday.

Zylstra caught three passes for 32 yards in that game and has eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown on the season. He was also credited with four tackles on special teams.

The Panthers are hoping linebacker Shaq Thompson might have a chance to play Sunday after missing the last two games with a foot injury. ...

And finally. ... The Panthers secondary got a boost Wednesday as Stephon Gilmore took the practice field with his new teammates for the first time.

Rhule said Monday that the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, eligible to come off the PUP list this week, should make his debut on Sunday for a road game against the New York Giants. The Panthers already have the No. 2 pass defense in the NFL, allowing just 196.8 yards per game.

The veteran cornerback has been on the physically unable to perform list related to last year's quad injury, though he has been running and working on movement with the Panthers athletic performance staff since getting here.

Rhule said the key would be how the 31-year-old Gilmore responds to practicing again and how he recovers. He hasn't played since Week 15 last year, after which the Patriots put him on injured reserve.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker
RBs: Chuba Hubbard, D'Onta Foreman, Christian McCaffrey
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robbie Anderson, Shi Smith, Rashard Higgins, Brandon Zylstra, Alex Erickson, Terrace Marshall Jr.
TEs: Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Colin Thompson

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Andrew Seligman noted, the Bears are seeing positive flashes from rookie quarterback Justin Fields and getting solid contributions in the run game no matter who is carrying the ball.

When it comes to scoring, they are struggling in a big way.

"You need to score more, we understand that," head coach Matt Nagy said Monday. "How we get to that, we're going through that identity. I think we all feel good about the identity. But now it's like, within that identity ... What else do we need to do to complement that, and how are we going to get to that point? We're working through all that."

At 16.3 points per game, Chicago ranked 30th in the NFL through Sunday. Only Houston and the New York Jets were averaging fewer.

The Bears were hoping to grab a share of the NFC North lead with a rare, statement victory over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on Sunday. But they struggled once again to put points on the board in a 24-14 loss.

After watching tape of Sunday's loss, Nagy on Monday discussed three things that stood out to him in the game.

First, while he's pleased with the continued growth that Fields showed, Nagy explained why he felt the offense mustered only 14 points.

The Bears had two impressive 80-yard touchdown drives, one on their first possession of the game and the other to start the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 17-14. On their other six drives, they failed to advance inside the Packers' 30 while producing just one play of more than 16 yards on 39 snaps, a 25-yard run by rookie Khalil Herbert.

Nagy cited the lack of explosive plays as a critical factor in being limited to 14 points, saying: "You're not driving the ball in 10-play drives all the time. ... We're not scoring enough. You need to score more. We understand that."

A lack of big plays wasn't the only factor, however. Nagy feels that more points will come if the Bears play complementary football like they did in an impressive 20-9 win over the Raiders Oct. 10 in Las Vegas. Against the Packers, the Bears defense didn't generate any takeaways and forced only one three-and-out possession.

"I really believe for our team, in general, big picture we need to work together in all three phases," Nagy said. "That's going to be important, if we do that and defensively we get three-and-outs, we get turnovers, [and] offensively, when you get a turnover or three-and-outs, you're getting touchdowns. Not every game is going to be 40-40. But we can score more and it's going to be complementary."

They've scored more than 20 points just once in six contests and are 3-0 when generating more than 14 points.

Second, Nagy lauded Fields for continuing to make the incremental progress the Bears are hoping to see from their first-round draft pick.

Nagy was especially impressed with a three-play sequence on the offense's first drive. The Bears moved from their own 42 to the Packers' 1 on the three snaps, as Fields completed passes of 11 yards to Darnell Mooney and 20 yards to Allen Robinson II and then threw deep to Marquise Goodwin, who drew a 26-yard pass interference penalty. Two plays later, Herbert's 1-yard touchdown run gave the Bears a 7-0 lead.

"Those three plays right there for Justin were special," Nagy said. "The very first play, he took a three-step drop, nice little hitch and a corner route to Mooney right on time. That was a professional throw, professional play. Great play by the line, everybody."

Nagy also praised Fields for his decision-making on the Bears' fourth-quarter TD drive. In a four-play span, the rookie quarterback connected on passes of 20 yards to Robinson and 21 yards to Cole Kmet and scrambled for 14 yards. Fields capped the possession with a 5-yard TD strike to Mooney.

"That was one of the better drives of the season, and for sure Justin's best," Nagy said. "When you go back and look at those plays, that's what gets you excited is being able to see that … the decision-making, the scrambling from Justin, the big catches by the wide receivers and tight ends, the protection by the O-line, the runs when we needed them, and then the very last play.

"They zoned us out. He had protection. He made a great throw. To me, that signifies growth for him and for our offense. We just need to do more of that. We need to get more of that in the middle [of the game] and not wait from the first drive of the game to that drive there."

How much more of that do they need?

Through Sunday, the Bears ranked seventh in rushing - and last in the league in total offense.

Clearly, the passing game is a work in progress. And that starts with Fields.

As outlined above, the former Ohio State star made some neat decisions and throws in leading touchdown drives on Chicago's first possession of the game and in the fourth quarter. But Seligman notes the offense stalled in between, with an interception and four straight punts.

Fields had a heave picked off in the end zone by Darnell Savage on what the Bears thought was a free play. It looked like the Packers might have jumped offside, but no flag was thrown.

He missed a wide-open Robinson downfield when he kept the ball on a second-quarter scramble from the Chicago 35.

"That's a naked play and my eyes aren't supposed to be there," said Fields, who was 16 for 27 for 174 yards with a touchdown, an interception and four sacks.

Fortunately, Hill came up big in the second straight game. Against the Packers, Herbert had a 25-yard run and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. He scored his first NFL touchdown on a 1-yard run on the Bears' opening possession of the game and later had an apparent 16-yard TD nullified by a holding penalty.

"I really liked the way that he ran the football," said coach Matt Nagy. "It was just like last week; when he makes the one cut and sticks that left or right foot in the ground he gets vertical … We need him right now."

He ran for a season-high 97 yards after going for 75 in a win at Las Vegas.

Herbert's emergence is coming at a good time for the Bears, considering David Montgomery (sprained knee) missed his second game in a row and Damien Williams (reserve/COVID-19 list) was unavailable against the Packers.

But the inability to pass the ball effectively is especially noteworthy with the Bears visiting Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week.

Leaning on the rushing attack isn't going to be the answer this week. ...

On the injury front. ... Nagy had no update on KR/PR Jakeem Grant Sr. (ankle) and DB Deon Bush (quad) after they were injured on Sunday. Grant came back into the game in the second quarter, but Artavis Pierce handled returns down the stretch. Bush exited in the second half. Nagy also said Williams remains on the COVID-19 list.

Tight end J.P. Holtz (quad) and linebacker Caleb Johnson (knee) missed Sunday's game with injuries. Other inactives were quarterback Nick Foles, receiver Breshad Perriman, cornerback Artie Burns and nose tackle Khyiris Tonga.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Fields, Trevor Siemian
RBs: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Tarik Cohen, Darrynton Evans
WRs: Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, Tajae Sharpe
TEs: Cole Kmet, Ryan Griffin, Jimmy Graham, Jesper Horsted, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Ben Baby framed it, "The scene inside Ford Field on Sunday was almost unthinkable a couple of years ago.

"The backups jogged onto the field. Disgruntled fans trudged toward the exit. And the Cincinnati Bengals were the ones cruising to a 34-11 victory over the Detroit Lions. ..."

It was a sign of how far the Bengals have come in the last three seasons.

Two years ago, Cincinnati was the worst team in the NFL. Now, the Bengals are at the stage of their rebuild that even on an OK day, they can thump a bad team.

If each game reveals an attribute about Cincinnati, the illumination on Sunday was that even when things aren't completely clicking, the Bengals (4-2) are more than good enough.

And so are the key offensive assets.

Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson noted this week that Jerry Rice is one of the top Bengals Killers of all-time. His name sends chills through every Bengals fan as the MVP of the Super Bowl the 49ers beat them with 34 seconds left.

But once they hear running back Joe Mixon invoke him in reference to teammate Ja'Marr Chase after Sunday's victory over the Lions, they might see it differently.

"I know he's young but he doesn't play like a rookie. If you look at Jerry Rice, that's what made him great," said Mixon, a Bay Area native. "He could catch the ball, take a slant to the house and then what made him great is when his teammates were running with the ball, he's running with them blocking. I see him with those traits. I was proud how he performed today."

Chase, the Bengals' big-play wide receiver, popped two more at Ford Field Sunday and to show you hot everyone's rookie of the year is, they weren't even his biggest play of the day. That would be his block that sprung Mixon loose on the last five yards of a 40-yard touchdown catch-and-run on fourth-and-one.

Quarterback Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy throwing 20 touchdowns to Chase long before Sunday, has seen him do many things.

But not the block he put on Lions safety Will Harris. Burrow had a bird's eye view as he ran behind the play. Chase cut across the field to Mixon's side in the flat and then he had to run and catch up and get in front of Mixon and engage Harris at the 5, shoving him from a back pedal into oblivion.

"I told him after that, not a lot of top five picked receivers do that," said Burrow, referring to the fifth pick in the draft the Bengals spent on him. "That's the kind of guy he is. He's just going to keep making plays like that. I mean that's an unbelievable play. He got Joe in the end zone. Not a lot of guys want to make that play, and he does."

The Bengals offense made it look frighteningly easy in the second half. So easy that head coach Zac Taylor wasn't admiring those 398 yards on the stat sheet.
He was wondering what might have been if they didn't have a first half of three straight three-and-outs, an interception and two holding calls.

"I was so mad with the first half, the execution stuff we needed to score more points early," Taylor said. "I went to halftime with a bad taste in my mouth. Sitting there with 10 points. We need to start faster and we need more production in the first half. We need to be able to get a three-score lead going into halftime. Then come out blazing in the second half. Those last possessions we scored points and scored every possession in the second half, that's a statement we want to have."

It's time to take note of this offense, first half hiccups and all.

Burrow finished 19 of 29 for 271 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to rookie running back Chris Evans on the game's opening drive. He threw that short pass to Mixon on fourth down that the running back turned into a 40-yard score to on the opening possession of the second half to give Cincinnati a 17-0 lead. The second-year quarterback tossed a 2-yard touchdown to C.J. Uzomah early in the fourth, putting the Bengals ahead 27-0.

Burrow did throw one interception, but the Lions failed to take advantage as they did with many opportunities in their latest loss.

As for Chase. ... The fifth overall pick in the 2021 draft has played six games. With 553 receiving yards, he ranks second all-time at this stage of his career.

According to the NFL, only Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin had more. As a rookie in 2003, Boldin had 592 receiving yards.

With 27 catches, he's averaging 20.5 yards per reception. He also has five touchdowns.

It also makes him the favorite to be the offensive rookie of the year.

Chase is on pace to become the Bengals first 1,500-yard rusher or receiver. Burrow is on pace to become their first quarterback to throw 40 touchdown passes. Mixon is on pace for their first 1,300-yard rush season in 15 years after 63 of his 94 yards came in the second half clock grinder.

"If we eliminate some of those things that happened in the first half, we probably score 50 points today," Burrow said. "But it's the NFL. I'm never going to be upset about a 34-point game when you're winning by as much as we did, but we do have to get some things corrected. And when we do that, it's going to be scary. "

Mixon was reminded after Sunday's game that long before the draft, he tweeted about wanting the Bengals drafting Chase.

"I just knew what he could mean to our team," Mixon said. "All we needed was one more receiver to really take this to the sky's the limit. You've got me back there, you've got Joe Burrow throwing the ball, you've also got Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd out there and we have receivers to complement those guys on the outside.

"It was definitely a great pickup for us. Everything we saw from him in college, that's what we're getting from him today."

What they got from his Sunday was another bailout as they staggered to the end of another first half.

The Lions (0-6) looked every bit like the last remaining winless team in the NFL. Lions quarterback Jared Goff was booed before, during and at the end of the game. The bulk of his 202 passing yards came after the game was out of reach and the Lions were headed to their 10th straight defeat, currently the NFL's longest losing streak.

But not only did the Bengals pick up their largest margin of victory since Taylor's coaching tenure started in 2019, they handed the Lions their worst loss of the season in what looked like a proverbial trap game. Cincinnati knows the offense must play more consistently if it wants to make a true run at winning the AFC North.

They'll get a chance to find out where they stand in that race in Baltimore, when they take on the Ravens this Sunday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Mike Thomas, Stanley Morgan Jr.
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Drew Sample

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Quarterback Baker Mayfield's string of 53 straight starts, including two in the playoffs last year, will end Thursday night.

Veteran Case Keenum will make his first start with the Browns, the team announced Wednesday.

Mayfield sustained a completely torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder Sept. 19 and injured it again Sunday in a loss to the Cardinals.

As Chronicle-Telegram and Medina Gazette staffer Scott Petrak noted, Mayfield said Tuesday he expected to play, but the decision was made to sit out the critical game against the Denver Broncos at FirstEnergy Stadium. Both teams are 3-3.

Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in 2018, took over as the starter as a rookie in Week 4. He hasn't missed a game due to injury since 2013 while he was at Texas Tech.

"I think that sets the tone," Mayfield said Tuesday of playing every week. "Obviously if I was in a physical state where I wasn't able to play to the best of my abilities and I was hurting the team, I wouldn't do that because I care about winning and I want to give this team the best position to do that. So I want to be out there, I want to get healthy, I want to do all that, so that's what it's about."

Mayfield writhed in agony when he fell on the fully extended left arm Sunday and it bent awkwardly after being tripped up by Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt. He said Tuesday the pain had lessened but it was still quite bothersome.

He threw in practice Tuesday and said the decision whether to play would be his.

"I have to make that decision. Only I know how my body feels," he said. "And if anyone questions whether I'm hindering the team in going out there injured, that's just not right. So it's my decision, I get to say whether I'm able to play or not, and that's just how it is."

Keenum, 33, is 28-36 as a starter, including 1-1 in the playoffs. His last start came in 2019 with Washington, when he made eight starts.

He's only thrown 13 passes in four games and two years with the Browns. For his career, he's completed 62.3 percent for 14,420 yards, 75 touchdowns, 47 interceptions and an 85.1 passer rating.

He played for Denver in 2018, starting every game as the Broncos went 6-10.

"Baker fought really hard to play," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He's a competitor and obviously wants to be out there but just couldn't make it on a short week."

Mayfield is not alone.

Running back Kareem Hunt suffered a calf injury that will sideline him for weeks and further reduce the powerhouse Cleveland rushing attack that was also without Nick Chubb against the Cardinals.

And Chubb will be out again this week.

D'Ernest Johnson, step on up.

After the Browns placed Hunt on injured reserve earlier in the day, Stefanski said in his Tuesday press conference that Chubb is also out for Thursday's game against the Broncos. That means Johnson will make his first career start against Denver.

Chubb (calf) missed Cleveland's loss to Arizona with the injury.

Hunt, arguably the best backup running back in the league, suffered a more serious calf injury during that game that will reportedly keep him out for four-to-six weeks.

Johnson has mainly played special teams in his three seasons with the Browns. But he does have 40 career carries for 198 yards. He's rushed three times for 11 yards this season and also has a 7-yard reception.

The Browns also have rookie Demetric Felton who could share some of the load at running back.

These are challenging days for Stefanski, who has little time to prepare for a Thursday night matchup against the Broncos without Mayfield, Chubb and Hunt and without a clear understanding of the availability of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. or if his starting offensive tackles will be available.

For the record, Beckham Jr. (shoulder), DE Jadeveon Clowney (ankle/chest/knee), RT Jack Conklin (knee), LT Jedrick Wills (ankle), C JC Tretter (knee), DT Malik Jackson (knee), LB Malcolm Smith (abdomen) and LB Mack Wilson (calf) are all listed as questionable.

What has become apparent in the past two weeks is that the Browns might not be as good as originally thought.

Cleveland has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but talent is only part of the equation on game days.

In consecutive losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Cardinals, the Browns made too many mistakes - many of them self-inflicted - to beat quality teams. The defense has been prone to communication breakdowns while Stefanski, hampered by personnel issues, can't seem to find the right run-pass balance on offense.

I'll obviously be watching for more on Beckham and Jarvis Landry -- with Stefanski telling reporters that both wideouts have a good shot at playing -- via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday's game. ...

For the record, Landry was designated to return from IR last week. He didn't make it back from the knee injury that's sidelined him since Week 2 to play the Cardinals.

As for Hunt, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the running back got the news Monday that he'll miss about 4-6 weeks and can try to help the Browns try to wrap a playoff berth and then make a run for it in the postseason. As noted above, the Browns placed Hunt on injured reserve Tuesday along with LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (ankle).

The team signed RB John Kelly to the active roster from the practice squad.

Kelly is in his third NFL season out of Tennessee. Originally a sixth-round pick by the Rams in 2018, Kelly has appeared in eight career games and recorded 30 carries for 83 yards and two receptions for 27 yards. He has spent the entire 2021 season on the Browns' practice squad. Kelly will wear No. 49.

Hunt has appeared in all six games this season and is leading the team with five rushing touchdowns with 361 yards. He is also leading the team with 20 receptions for 161 yards. ...

A few final notes here. ... Donovan Peoples-Jones is becoming more relevant for an offense missing key parts. He positioned himself perfectly to outjump several smaller Arizona defenders to haul in a 57-yard Hail Mary TD to end the half - a play that gave the Browns momentum.

The second-year wideout finished with four catches for 101 yards.

David Njoku caught 1-of-2 targets for six yards in Cleveland's Week 6 loss to the Cardinals. Fair to say those totals were a disappointment with Njoku coming off a seven-catch, 149-yard, one-TD showing in Week 5. Even with that strong Week 5 showing, Week 6 demonstrates what can happen when an offense has three contributors -- in this case Njoku, Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant -- at the position.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Baker Mayfield, Kyle Lauletta, Deshaun Watson
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton, John Kelly
WRs: Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Jakeem Grant, Anthony Schwartz
TEs: David Njoku, Harrison Bryant, Miller Forristall, Stephen Carlson

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Head coach Mike McCarthy on Monday said an MRI confirmed Dak Prescott strained his right calf, but he remains optimistic about the quarterback playing at Minnesota on Oct. 31 after the team's bye week.

Prescott suffered the injury on the game-winning touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb that gave Dallas a 35-29 overtime victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday.

He had to be helped off the field and wore a walking boot while meeting with reporters after the game.

"I've got a lot of confidence in myself and the medical team, and as I said, I feel good," Prescott said Sunday. "This (the boot) is a precaution. Didn't hurt as bad, obviously, when you score and win the game."

The injury is in the same lower leg that needed two surgeries after Prescott's season-ending compound fracture of his right ankle in Week 5 last year.

Prescott said he "came down funny" after the 35-yard throw that he made while running to the Cowboys' sideline. Had Dallas not scored, Prescott said he could have continued to play.

"It was a little pain, but, no, for sure, I would've been able to keep going," he said. "I think the adrenaline would've been up and probably maybe not even felt it at that time. But I think the after the time you relax and it's like, 'Oh, well, there it is.'"

The Cowboys are heading into their bye week, and the players are expected to have the entire week off.

A source told ESPN.com's Todd Archer, this injury is different than the calf strain that wide receiver Michael Gallup suffered in the season opener on Sept. 9. Gallup has not played since.

"I'll be fine. I can promise you that," Prescott said. "Great timing going into the bye week, but as I said, y'all can have fun with it this week."

Prescott had fun Sunday against the Patriots. He completed 36 of 51 passes for 445 yards with three touchdowns -- two to Lamb -- and an interception.

His 445 passing yards are the most allowed by a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team. Including the postseason, Hall of Famers Kurt Warner (401), Peyton Manning (400) and Warren Moon (399) had the most passing yards in a win against Belichick before Prescott.

"Honestly, I didn't know I threw for that much until [Ezekiel Elliott] told me in the locker room," Prescott said. "It's not about me. It's about the whole team. It's about the practice we put into it. It's about the way we go about our practice, the way we built our team. I'm just a product, I guess, of the stats, but at the same time, it's the unselfishness. It starts up front with the communication in how we're protecting and those guys getting open. They make my job easy."

The Cowboys needed everything Prescott had. They were penalized 12 times for 115 yards, both season highs. They were just 2-of-5 in the red zone, with Prescott throwing an interception and losing a fumble. The defense allowed four touchdowns to a New England offense that had scored just eight TDs in the first five games.

"Can't say enough about Dak Prescott just the way that ball was being distributed and the calmness and the confidence he had in the pocket," McCarthy said. "I thought out pass protection was excellent, but we knew this was going to be a dogfight. We knew this was going to be a huge challenge coming in here, and I really do think these kinds of wins during the course of the season could definitely pay forward for us."

Trailing 29-26 with 2:05 left in regulation, Prescott directed a nine-play, 40-yard drive that included a fourth-down throw to Cedrick Wilson and a 24-yard gain on third-and-25 to Lamb that set up Greg Zuerlein's tying field goal with 20 seconds to play.

In overtime, Prescott completed all five passes for 71 yards, finding Lamb breaking free from Jalen Mills for the longest game-ending score of his career.

"I was expecting someone to pop up behind me, and then there was no one within like three yards to my left," said Lamb, who had career highs with nine catches for 149 yards. "[Mills] was kind of behind me, and when I turned around, I was actually surprised and I just walked in. It was the best feeling ever, honestly."

Prescott showed patience with season highs of seven completions for 50 yards to Elliott. Tight end Dalton Schultz had another big game (five catches, 79 cards). Dallas doesn't win if Wilson doesn't make the above-mentioned leaping 13-yard grab on fourth-and-4 late in regulation. ...

It was the third time Prescott had tossed at least three TDs this year and prompted a very deserving first NFC Offensive Player of the Week nod this year.

The Cowboys (5-1) have a three-game lead in the NFC East as they head into their off week. Last season, they did not win their fifth game until Week 15.

Their only loss this season came against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who needed a final-minute field goal for the 32-29 victory.

The only team with a better record in the NFL is the undefeated Arizona Cardinals.

"We know we're for real," Prescott said, "and we believe we're for real."

While coaches generally like to have the bye later on in the season with how injuries pile up -- and McCarthy thinks along the same lines, he believes the Cowboys' mini-bye with a Thursday game following the Thanksgiving contest is a big benefit. The week off will allow some rest for guys that are banged up (Elliott, Tyron Smith, Amari Cooper, Randy Gregory) and time for guys coming back from injury (Gallup, Dorance Armstrong, DeMarcus Lawrence, Neville Gallimore).

But they need to come off the bye with some fire. They also have some things to work on.

As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon noted, penalties and game management continue to be problems. Dallas came out of Sunday with the second-most penalties in the NFL (48) for the fourth-most yards (404) after getting 12 for 115. Against the Patriots, the Cowboys had 76 penalty yards at halftime, which is why they trailed 14-10 after dominating most of the first half.

McCarthy lost an ill-advised challenge early when there wasn't clear evidence Elliott got the ball past the first-down line on a fourth-and-1 run. He needlessly gave the Patriots 20 seconds at the end of regulation by using a puzzling timeout with 24 seconds remaining when the tying kick should have been the final play.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement, Ito Smith
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, James Washington, Simi Fehoko, Noah Brown, Michael Gallup
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Sean McKeon

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold wrote, "The picture of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater walking gingerly back to the team's locker room after Sunday's loss to the Las Vegas Raiders was worth a 1,000 words or 17 hits, take your pick.

"Bridgewater had the kind of contusion-inducing day that won't be conducive to a productive workplace environment if it's repeated very often. ..."

"Definitely, that's on us," said Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry III. "That's our job, to protect whoever is back there. If he gets hit that many times, obviously something is wrong. We have to fix that fast."

Yes, they do. Especially because their next opponent -- the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night -- employs Myles Garrett, who was the NFL's sack leader heading into this weekend's games. The Raiders sacked Bridgewater five times, three of those from Maxx Crosby, while also battering the quarterback 17 times overall during their 34-24 victory on Sunday.

Bridgewater was sacked or hit on 30 percent of his dropbacks. That math simply won't work for the Broncos' offense or Bridgewater's health.

When Bridgewater was asked following Sunday's loss if it was more difficult emotionally or physically in that moment, he said: "It's a combination of both ... just got to find a way to tough it all out. Ninety-six hours is all we got, just have to find a way to tough it all out."

In the Broncos' three consecutive losses, Bridgewater has been sacked nine times combined and was knocked from the loss to the Baltimore Ravens just before halftime with a concussion. He has now thrown four interceptions in the past two games combined under duress after not throwing any over the first four. The Broncos have gone from 28, 30 and 37 rushing attempts in their three wins to 17, 18 and 23 in the three losses.

"Teddy hasn't been a turnover guy. ... Once you become an unbalanced offense the chance of throwing interceptions go up," said head coach Vic Fangio. "... You get in a throw-it mode that early in the game, [hits on the quarterback] are the risk you run."

In the past two losses, especially, the Broncos have trailed early -- 24-6 in the third quarter to the Steelers and 24-10 in the third quarter to the Raiders. That has forced the Broncos into a throw-first posture, which has taken the things the Broncos have done best with Bridgewater, such as the play-action passing game, largely off the table. And it has put him squarely in harm's way.

After Sunday's loss, Bridgewater said he contributed to the problem by hanging in the pocket longer than he should have, trying to make a play that could help the Broncos attempt some kind of comeback.

"[I was] just trying to exhaust the progression," Bridgewater said. "I probably did hold the ball a little too long on some of those."

While the Ravens created pressure with a variety of fronts to go with a vast assortment of blitzes to harass Bridgewater, the Raiders were at the other end of the spectrum. They largely stuck to their four-man front as Crosby consistently forced the issue.

"They do a good job creating pressure with just four rushers, that's what they're good at, that's what they've been good at," said tight end Noah Fant. "We just got to [be] better in that aspect, honestly there's no other explanation for it. They made plays, we made mistakes."

It should come as no surprise that Bridgewater appears on the official injury report.

In fact, Bridgewater (foot, quad), Fant (foot) and running back Melvin Gordon (hip) are all there.

But after the dust had settled in the wake of Wednesday's practice, only one of them had an injury designation.

Bridgewater, who had a quad injury added Wednesday to the foot issue he was initially dealing with, is questionable.

Fant and Gordon both avoided injury designation.

Despite the questionable designation, Fangio has indicated he expects Bridgewater to take the field in Cleveland.

In addition, the Broncos are likely to be without Jerry Jeudy for at least one more week.

Fangio said Jeudy would run routes at full speed this week, but he was uncertain about Jeudy's availability.

"We'll try and get a barometer on that," Fangio said. "We'll see. I think the chances of him playing are less than 50 percent right now."

I'll have more on all Bridgewater -- and Jeudy if need be -- via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in advance of Thursday night's game. ...

Beyond that, the biggest injury is losing inside linebacker Alexander Johnson for the year to a torn pectoral muscle, the same injury that sidelined fellow starting linebacker Josey Jewell. Johnson was in the midst of his best season yet and entered the team tied with Jackson for most tackles. Rookie linebacker Baron Browning went into concussion protocol and left tackle Garett Bolles (leg) is day to day.

Fangio expected Tim Patrick to be OK after running into the bench during the second half of Sunday's game and the veteran wideout is not on this initial injury report. ...

Courtland Sutton leads Broncos receivers with 33 catches through the first six weeks of the season. Patrick and Kendall Hinton have joined him in three receiver sets in recent weeks.

Sutton caught 8-of-14 targets for 94 yards and a touchdown against Las Vegas. In addition to the scoring play, Sutton was wide open for a second score but Bridgewater missed him with the pass. Still, the performance left him well inside the top 10 at his position in Week 6, and a matchup against the beat up Browns could work in his favor.

Fant caught 9-of-11 targets for 97 yards and a touchdown. With Denver playing from behind, all the receiving components benefited from Bridgewater's 49 attempts. With a 22.4 percent share of those targets, Fant clearly remains high on the QB's radar. ...

Gordon carried the ball 10 times for 50 yards and caught 3-of-3 targets for an additional 23 yards against the Raiders. Despite playing through the above-mentioned lower-leg bruise, the veteran continues to get a slightly larger snap share than rookie Javonte Williams (53 percent to 47 percent against Las Vegas), who rushed 11 times for 53 yards and caught 3-of-3 targets for another 15 yards.

Although he was on the field for five fewer snaps than Gordon, Williams still out-touched his veteran teammate. ...

The Bengals released receiver David Moore. He did not have a catch in two games with the Broncos. The team added veteran speedster John Brown last week. He was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster last Saturday. He was active and played six snaps against the Raiders. ...

Worth noting: Kicker Brandon McManus has quietly gone 12 for 12 on field goals and 12 for 12 on extra points. That's impressive in a season when kicking has become a bit of an adventure league-wide. ...

And finally. ... Fangio has felt a little heat during his time as Broncos head coach, but that is about to change. The Broncos' 3-3 record won't feel very much like .500 after the Raiders -- despite all the distractions surrounding coach Jon Gruden resigning this week -- looked far better prepared and emotionally ready to play Sunday.

The losing streak quickly lead to an uptick in questions about Fangio's future with the team, but the coach told reporters that he's doing his best to keep such chatter off his radar.

"Nah, just tune it out, really," Fangio said, via Mike Klis of KUSA. "This is the NFL. And when that happens, that's natural. We expect it and that's just part of the deal."

Fangio said that he has a sign in his office that says "it's not time to worry, it's time to work."

As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton suggests, if the work that Fangio puts in fails to push the team back in the right direction, it will likely get harder to fully tune out speculation about the team moving in a new direction at some point in the future.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Josh Johnson
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Diontae Spencer, K.J. Hamler
TEs: Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As NFL.com's Chase Goodbread noted, Dan Campbell didn't say a quarterback change is coming.

But in the wake of a dismal 34-11 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Detroit Lions coach didn't rule it out, either.

That's a tough pill for a fan base looking at an 0-6 team in its first year with Jared Goff, who was acquired in a trade with the Rams for one of the best arms in the game in Matthew Stafford. Goff has unquestionably struggled, however, and was at his least effective in Sunday's loss: He had just 38 passing yards at halftime, and the Lions didn't score until the fourth quarter.

"I feel like he needs to step up more than he has," Campbell told reporters Sunday.

Goff finished 28 of 42 for 202 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Most of his production, however, came with the outcome already decided. His status will be all the hotter a topic this week, as the Lions prepare to face the Stafford-led Rams. Stafford has been a nice fit in Sean McVay's offense this season. The two teams will meet Sunday in Los Angeles.

Goff declined to comment on the matchup following his rough outing in Week 6.

Asked if he's considering turning to backup David Blough at the quarterback position, Campbell said, "We're going to look at everything."

That's no endorsement, to be sure, but Campbell also noted that he gave no consideration to replacing Goff during the Bengals game, and that problems with the Lions offense run deeper than quarterback play.

"I don't put all of this on Jared Goff. ... This is collectively," Campbell added.

Of course, backup Tim Boyle remains on the injured reserve list and Blough was 0-5 in his five starts as an undrafted rookie in 2019.

In addition, Detroit's offense as a whole hasn't offered its quarterback much in the way of help, so other changes will come first.

Like what?

"We'll look at everything," he said. "I've got about a million ideas just floating around up here right now as to what I want to do."

As MLive.com's Kyle Meinke notes, Campbell made the above comments just minutes after a sixth straight loss, the longest losing streak for any new Lions head coach in 20 years. There have been some heartbreaks along the way, including a pair of buzzer-beaters by Minnesota and Baltimore, before the demoralizing beatdown at the hands of the Bengals on Sunday.

According to Meinke, that infuriated the new head coach. He cussed out the locker room after the game, brought that fire to his postgame news conference, then went back to his office to let his emotions subside before crushing the tape and considering what changes he can make heading into another tough game Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams (5-1).

"It takes a minute to step away from it and, you know, just calm down, don't let your emotions play into it as you grade the tape," Campbell said. "It takes me a minute, and then look at it with open eyes, somewhat of a clean slate, and take it for what it is, and not let your emotions overcome you. So that's what I did."

Asked directly whether he was considering changes to the roster or practice, Campbell said: "There are a couple things. I would say all of the above. I don't want to get too far into where that'll go, as far as the roster, but we're looking at that. I think we're going to shake things up here a little bit."

As far as the roster goes, changes are possible anywhere but at quarterback for an offense that has scored six first-half points in the last month and still hasn't scored more than 17 points in a game since Week 1.

The receiver unit could be the worst in the league, although injuries to Tyrell Williams (brain) and Quintez Cephus (collarbone) after the dismissal of Breshad Perriman could limit their personnel options. Kalif Raymond and KhaDarel Hodge started on Sunday, while rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown was in the slot.

Geronimo Allison and Tom Kennedy combined for 21 snaps off the bench, while Trinity Benson did not dress for the game.

In what's probably no coincidence, Allison was promoted to the active roster on Wednesday.

Worth noting. ... None of those receivers had a catch of longer than 15 yards (Kennedy), and none finished with more than 37 yards for the day (Raymond).

"We got to find a way to get them open and get them the ball, and I got to find a way to get them the ball," Goff said. "I don't think defenses have done too much to make it as hard as it's been."

In addition to personnel changes, Campbell said he intends to make changes at practice to help combat the raft of missed assignments, turnovers and penalties that have ailed his team.

Campbell also continued to stress the importance of finding better tempo on offense. They talked about it last week too, after failing to score a touchdown in the first half of their previous three games. They also talked about shortening the verbiage of their West Coast offense to help pick up the pace and build some momentum, and that work could continue this week after they struggled even more on Sunday.

The goal will be avoiding the slow starts that have plagued them to date.

As ESPN.com's Eric Woodyard notes, Detroit has gone four consecutive games without posting a first-half touchdown, which last happened in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers. Detroit is also the lone team in the league to trail by double digits in every game this season.

To Woodyard's point, Associated Press sports writer David Hogg wrote, "Goff's inability to get the ball down the field is destroying the team's chance of putting up quick points."

On Sunday, he completed 28 passes for just 202 yards, with 89 of those yards coming after the catch. With his average completion coming just 4 yards from the line of scrimmage, the Lions have possessions where two completions aren't enough to get a first down.

"I don't think defenses are doing anything to take deeper passes away from us," he said Sunday. "I've just got to find a way to get the ball down the field. That's on me."

T.J. Hockenson has been the one offensive player able to give the Lions a chance to complete a pass for more than 6 or 6 yards. His 33-yard catch Sunday was Detroit's only play longer than 15 yards. Goff missed him on what should have been a 38-yard touchdown.

Meanwhile, the wide receivers only had three catches for 22 yards before the Bengals switched to a prevent defense with a 27-0 lead.

Whatever the case, the Lions need to find a game plan that lets Goff have some success against his former team. That means solving one of the toughest problems in the game: Stopping Aaron Donald.

"They've got the best defensive player in the league," Campbell said. "We will have to find a way to get past him."

Other notes of interest. ... Last Sunday was another example of how D'Andre Swift has been getting the majority of the snaps at running back. He had 49 of the 63 snaps.

Swift had 13 carries for 24 yards and 1.8 yards per carry. He had five receptions for 43 yards and 8.6 yards per catch.

Jamaal Williams rushed four times for 11 yards and caught his only target for minus-two yards.

For the season, Swift has 65 carries, 214 yards and 3.3 yards per carry. He has 34 catches, 295 yards and 8.7 yards per catch.

What hurts Swift in the running game is that teams can either load up to stop it because of the Lions' lack of playmakers in the passing game, and they get behind in games like Sunday's and it takes them out of games.

While the impending return of Taylor Decker (finger) could boost the Detroit rushing game in the near future, the season-ending loss of Frank Ragnow (toe) will continue to be difficult to recover from. Regardless, Williams likely will remain in the back seat to the receiving-proficient Swift, and his fantasy outlook could diminish if Detroit can't find ways to remain competitive most weeks.

Elsewhere on the injury report. ... Swift continued to work on a limited basis -- as he has since August-- due to a lingering groin injury. Hockenson (knee) didn't practice Wednesday. He's been playing through the same injury the last three weeks. I'll have more on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, KhaDarel Hodge, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy, Quintez Cephus, D.J. Chark
TEs: Brock Wright, Garrett Griffin, Jared Pinkney, T.J. Hockenson

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Steve Megargee noted, when he celebrated a touchdown run at Chicago on Sunday by shouting to the crowd, Aaron Rodgers may have been selling his team short.

Rodgers yelled, "I still own you!" to the Bears fans at Soldier Field. In fact, Megargee reminded readers, Rodgers and the Packers have owned the entire NFC North ever since Matt LaFleur arrived as coach.

That doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.

Green Bay (5-1) has a two-game lead over the Bears and Minnesota Vikings in the division standings after winning 24-14 at Chicago. The Packers are seeking their third straight division title and own a 13-1 record against NFC North opponents in LaFleur's three-year tenure.

"I'm just really proud of the guys," Rodgers said after the game. "These are character wins. These are wins that are really, really important. We've got to get healthy. We've got a lot of guys banged up, a lot of guys we could use moving forward. But I really like where we're at, two up in the division after six and playing winning football."

Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, LaFleur is the only coach to win his first seven divisional road games. Green Bay's only loss to an NFC North opponent under LaFleur came last year when Dalvin Cook scored four touchdowns to lead the Vikings to a 28-22 victory at Lambeau Field.

"These games are so meaningful because if you can come out with a win, you're obviously adding a loss to a divisional opponent and that's a full game," LaFleur said. "So every divisional game is so important."

The Packers have built this division lead while dealing multiple injuries.

Starters who missed Sunday's game included 2020 All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, 2020 Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander, 2020 Pro Bowl outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, cornerback Kevin King and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Injuries knocked center Josh Myers, safety Darnell Savage and outside linebacker Preston Smith out of the game.

Bakhtiari tore his left anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 31 and opened the season on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he had to miss the Packers' first six games. Now that the Packers have played six games, Bakhtiari can start practicing again to prepare for his eventual return.

Indeed, LaFleur confirmed to reporters that Bakhtiari would practice on Wednesday. LaFleur said on Monday that he expected Bakhtiari to practice this week.

"We want to make sure that, No. 1, physically his knee is in great shape and he's not at further risk of doing more damage to it," the coach said Monday. "And also I think there's a confidence factor that you develop by playing football, whether that's in practice, so there is a ramp-up period."

LaFleur said he couldn't completely rule out the possibility of surgery for Alexander but added that team officials feel he's "progressing nicely" in his recovery from a shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, Green Bay's rushing totals have improved every game this season. The Packers ran for a season-high 154 yards Sunday and have gained over 130 yards rushing in each of their last three games.

That's no accident.

Aaron Jones carried the ball 13 times for 76 yards against the Bears. He also caught 4-of-4 targets for another 34 yards and a touchdown. A.J. Dillon had 11 carries for 59 yards. He went without a target in the passing game, but make no mistake: Dillon's role in the offense is growing.

Over the last three games, Dillon has 39 touches for 235 yards from scrimmage.

ESPN's Dan Graziano, after speaking with LaFleur last week, reported that Dillon's increased workload has been by design. Jones is still the RB1, but the Packers are going to make use of Dillon, who was on the field for 25 snaps against the Bears compared to Jones' 35.

But Jones isn't suffering for it.

In fact, Jones' role as a receiving asset seems to be more than enough to cover for Dillon's rise.

The Packers return home to face the Washington Football Team on Sunday before going back on the road for a demanding two-game stretch at Arizona and Kansas City. ...

It's a great matchup for Rodgers, Jones and Davante Adams.

Adams caught 4-of-5 targets for 89 yards in Chicago.

It was a relatively quiet day for the NFL's most dangerous receiver, but mostly because it was a relatively quiet day for Rodgers, who completed 17-of-23 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns as the ground game was carrying the day.

Rodgers carried the ball seven times for an additional 19 yards and a third touchdown.

So even on a day when the rushing attack led the way, Rodgers was still able to leverage his talented supporting cast to finish as a top-10 performer at his position. Since a miserable Week 1 showing against the Saints, Rodgers has thrown 12 touchdown passes over the last five games; four of them with at least two scoring strikes and four of them with two each.

The two rushing TDs during that span add to the positive vibe here and are a major reason Rodgers is able to own opposing teams on a regular basis.

Robert Tonyan caught 2-of-3 targets for 10 yards against the Bears. This has become the norm as the 10-yard output in Chicago represents Tonyan's second-highest total of the season. What's become quite obvious this season is, unless he scores a touchdown, Tonyan isn't going to deliver fantasy-friendly numbers.

Again, the Football Team is a defense that can be thrown on. Easily. All involved in the Packers passing game could get a bump from that.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Kurt Benkert, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor, Randall Cobb
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Robert Tonyan

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Head coach David Culley said last week that Tyrod Taylor is the team's starting quarterback once he's healthy enough to return to action, but that won't be this week.

Culley told reporters on Wednesday that rookie Davis Mills will start against the Cardinals.

For the year, Mills has completed 88 of 139 passes for 912 yards, with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a passer rating of 73.2.

As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken notes, the Texans hoped Mills would take another step forward against Indianapolis to help them snap a four-game skid.

Instead, the rookie quarterback threw two interceptions after halftime to doom the Texans to another embarrassing loss.

Mills tied a franchise record by throwing four interceptions in a 40-0 loss to Buffalo Oct. 3, but bounced back last week with three TD passes and no turnovers in a close loss to New England.

Culley said repeatedly last week that the only way Mills could get Houston in the win column is if he continued to take care of the ball against the Colts.

The third-round draft pick did that in the first half to keep the Texans in it early. They only trailed by a touchdown when Mills made his first big mistake of the game.

The Texans got a stop to start the second half, but Mills was picked off by Darius Leonard on their first offensive play of the third quarter. Indianapolis took advantage of the mistake when Carson Wentz threw a 28-yard TD pass two plays later to extend the lead to 17-3.

A fumble by David Johnson early in the fourth quarter led to another Indianapolis touchdown.

And Mills was picked off again with about 3½ minutes remaining in the 31-3 loss, leaving the Texans without a touchdown in two of his four starts.

Culley knows that Mills needs to improve, but was quick to point out that he's far from the only one who must play better.

"We don't (have) the progress that we feel like we need. ... At this time," he said. "We're still inconsistent with things."

ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop believes Mills' performance in the Texans' loss to the Colts shows the level of play Houston should expect with him at quarterback.

Against the Patriots the week before, Mills threw three touchdowns and didn't turn the ball over. However, one of the touchdowns came on a flea flicker and one was on a great play made on the sideline by wide receiver Chris Moore. Against the Colts, Mills had a solid first half, but he barely attempted to throw the ball downfield. He was 29 of 43 for 243 yards and two interceptions.

Culley said Wednesday that regardless of how well Mills plays while Taylor is out, he will be the backup when Taylor is healthy because Taylor gives the Texans the best chance to win.

Mills, who is tied for third in the NFL with seven interceptions this season despite playing just 4½ games, showed us why on Sunday.

Next up, the Texans have what could be their toughest task so far on Sunday when they'll face some old friends in a trip to meet the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. Houston will attempt to end its skid in its first meeting against J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins.

Watt spent a decade with the Texans before being released after last season and signing with the Cardinals while Hopkins is in his second season in Arizona after the trade that brought Johnson to Houston.

Beyond that, Houston is now 0-3 away from NRG Stadium this season and has not scored a touchdown in a road game since the second half in Cleveland in Week 2. Houston does play the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars on the road, but without Taylor, there might not be much Mills can do to lead Houston to a victory.

I will, of course, have more on Taylor and his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Texans had four penalties Sunday to give them 43 this season, which is tied with the Chargers for sixth most in the league. They've been penalized for 374 yards this season, which is the eighth most in the NFL.

The Texans did better in the area this week than they did against the Patriots when they were flagged eight times, but Culley was still irked because of when they committed the penalties.

"Penalties do happen, but we seem to be getting them, especially on the road, at critical times that are hurting us on both sides of the ball," he said. ...

Rookie receiver Nico Collins had four receptions for 44 yards in his return Sunday after missing three games with a shoulder injury.

The Texans went on a signing spree this offseason, loading up with veteran players. Most were on one-year contracts. Returner Andre Roberts signed a two-year deal.

The Texans now are moving on from Roberts, Brooks Kubena of the Houston Chronicle reports.

The news comes shortly after Houston released defensive end Whitney Mercilus.

Roberts, a 12-year veteran, is on pace to average his fewest return yards on both punts (4.1 yards) and kickoff returns (21.4) since 2011. He averaged 9.9 yards on 29 punt returns and 30.0 yards on 32 kickoff returns last year with Buffalo.

His punt return average ranks last among 17 NFL players with enough returns to qualify.

Texans cornerback Desmond King is expected to replace Roberts as the team's punt returner.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Davis Mills, Kevin Hogan, Kyle Allen
RBs: Dare Ogunbowale, Rex Burkhead, David Johnson, Marlon Mack, Royce Freeman, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins, Phillip Dorsett, Chris Conley, Chris Moore, Danny Amendola, Davion Davis, Jordan Veasy
TEs: Brevin Jordan, Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Jeff Driskel

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

According to ESPN.com's Mike Wells, Carson Wentz's best throwing game of his NFL career ended up being a footnote in Week 5 because the Colts blew a 19-point lead in their road loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

In Sunday's 31-3 victory over the Texans, Wentz again took a backseat, because the defense forced three turnovers, including an interception by linebacker Darius Leonard that got the Colts going in the right direction.

"But make no mistake," Wells wrote, "the Wentz we saw in the past two games is the Wentz the Colts envisioned when they traded for him in the winter."

Indeed, the quarterback is 36-of-55 for 625 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions the past two games.

And while those stats are impressive, Wells offers up what he contends are even better numbers: 42, 51, 52, 76 and 83.

Those numbers represent the chunk-play yards the Colts have gained in the past two games.

"This is the guy I knew in Philadelphia," head coach Frank Reich said about Wentz. "He can be a big-play machine. What I've been more impressed with: I know he can make those plays, but I like the way he's taking care of the football.

"I like the way he's handling the game, getting us in and out of the right run checks. Just being in control out there and trusting his guys to make the big plays, and making good decisions, and being accurate with the ball, especially down the field, which he's been off the charts."

One of the reasons the Colts brought Wentz to Indianapolis is because of his arm strength. That was lacking last season with Philip Rivers at quarterback. This is no knock on Rivers, because he played a significant role in the Colts finishing 11-5 and making the playoffs. Wentz simply brings an added dimension to the offense with his ability to throw the ball down the field.

The Colts had 56 plays of at least 20 receiving yards in 16 games last season.

This season?

They already have 20 plays of at least 20 yards in six games.

Wentz got a key weapon back when wide receiver T.Y. Hilton made his season debut Sunday after missing the first five games with a disc injury. The two connected on a 52-yard completion where all Hilton had to do was run under the ball because Wentz perfectly placed it. It was like Hilton was playing with Andrew Luck again.

"With Carson, you've got to run," Hilton said. "If you don't run, you're not going to catch up to the ball. Just a couple plays that we talked about, and he was able to hit me."

Although Wentz got Hilton back last week and hopefully going forward (more on that below), he'll now be without another speedy receiver for an extended period of time.

Reich said Monday Parris Campbell suffered a "significant" foot injury when he hauled in a 51-yard touchdown pass from Wentz in the first half against the Texans. Campbell, who has played 14 out of a possible 38 games since being selected in the second round of the 2019 draft, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and could be out for the remainder of the season.

Campbell has 10 receptions for 162 yards with one touchdown in 2021. He's appeared in five games with three starts, missing the Week 2 loss to the Rams.

Several injuries limited Campbell to seven games as a rookie in 2019. Then he suffered a significant knee injury in the second game of the 2020 season that kept him out for the rest of the year.

The "chunk plays," as the Colts like to call them, should continue to be part of the team's offensive identity, as they look to fight their way out of their 2-4 start.

The team -- minus Campbell -- is starting to get healthy. Reich is holding out hope for Hilton's right quad injury, which caused him to miss the final seven minutes of Sunday's game, isn't too severe.

"With these soft-tissue things, we're going to need it to settle down for 48 hours," Reich said.

Hilton said himself following Sunday's game that he didn't think the quad injury was serious. Hilton caught four passes for 80 yards in the win over Houston.

Hilton did not practice Wednesday, however, and I'll be following up on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

There is a chance right tackle Braden Smith (foot), and left guard Quenton Nelson (ankle) could return Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers.

Nelson has missed the last three games while on injured reserve with ankle and knee injuries, but the team got the clock started on his return to action on Wednesday when they designated him for return. Nelson will take part in practice and can be activated at any point in the next 21 days.

And the most important player of the group who has dealt with injuries -- Wentz -- is no longer showing signs of his two ankle injuries. You can tell by the way he's able to step into his throws.

"I'm happy with the progress we're making," Reich said. "We're still missing a couple of great players in Quenton and Braden. So, hopefully, get them back, maybe this week, who knows? I hope we're just scratching the surface. There are going to be some ups and downs for sure, but in all three phases, we just need to continue to get better."

While Wentz's big plays are great, so are Jonathan Taylor's -- and it begs the question: When will the Colts give Taylor at least 20 touches every game?

It just took a franchise record 83-yard run in the third quarter for Taylor to get rolling. Good things tend to happen for the Colts when the second-year running back touches the ball. He had a 76-yard touchdown off a screen against Baltimore in Week 5. Taylor finished Sunday with 145 yards on 14 carries.

According to Wells, Taylor has reached the point where an argument could be made he deserves at least 20 touches a game. That's only happened once this season when he had 17 rushes and six receptions against Seattle in Week 1. That said, after running just eight times in the first half against Houston, Reich went with a heavy ground game in the second half.

Indy finished with 26 carries for 174 yards, 6.7 yards per carry.

Next up, Indianapolis protected its home field for the first time Sunday. Now the Colts hit the road against a hungry and rested San Francisco team that former 49ers star and 2020 All-Pro DeForest Buckner knows well. Indy must play a physical, 60-minute game to get back to .500. ...

A few final notes here. ... The Colts made several moves on Tuesday, including cutting one of their key draftees from 2020.

Indianapolis has signed kicker Michael Badgley to the 53-man roster from the team's practice squad. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger has been activated off injured reserve to the 53-man roster. And the team waived quarterback Jacob Eason and defensive tackle Chris Williams.

Badgley made all four of his extra points and his one field goal Indianapolis' 31-3 victory over the Texans on Sunday. He's filling in for Rodrigo Blankenship, who's dealing with a hip injury.

Ehlinger has been on IR since the start of the season. He sprained his anterior cruciate ligament in Indianapolis' preseason finale. Ehlinger was designated to return on Sept. 30.

Ehlinger's return made Eason, a 2020 fourth-round pick, expendable. The Colts have been using Brett Hundley as Carson Wentz's backup and he's on the 53-man roster. Though Eason had been on the roster since last year, he had clearly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. He threw an interception late in the Week 2 matchup with the Rams after Wentz had to exit the contest with sprained ankles.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Deon Jackson
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., T.Y. Hilton, Ashton Dulin, Parris Campbell
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Urban Meyer won a lot of games as a college head coach and has been in a lot of emotional postgame locker rooms, especially after winning three national championships at Florida and Ohio State.

But Meyer said the moments after the Jacksonville Jaguars' 23-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Sunday were as intense as he has experienced outside of those title games -- and maybe even comparable.

"I think it was," Meyer said. "Maybe even including some of those big ones [national championships]."

Not only was it Meyer's first victory as an NFL head coach, it was the Jaguars' first victory of the season -- and the first time the franchise had won in 399 days. The Jaguars had lost 20 consecutive games -- the second-longest losing streak in NFL history -- dating to a victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the 2020 season opener.

The Jaguars (1-5) beat the Dolphins on Matthew Wright's 53-yard field goal as time expired. That touched off a massive celebration on the field in which players came off the sideline and chased Wright into the end zone to congratulate him. Wright had signed with the team's practice squad and has been the kicker the past three weeks because Josh Lambo had been dealing with confidence issues.

The Jaguars released Lambo on Tuesday.

Cutting Lambo doesn't come as much of a surprise after the Jags started the season 0-for-4 on field-goal attempts through the first five games (including a Wright miss in Week 5). Lambo missed his first three field goals of the season and two PATs before being replaced by Wright.

The 30-year-old Lambo spent the past five years in Jacksonville after starting his career in San Diego.

With a big leg, Lambo brought stability to the position, hitting 91.6 percent of his field-goal attempts while in Jacksonville, the highest percentage in team history.

Still, Wright's effort in London earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

Meanwhile, Meyer normally hands out game balls after victories, but this time the players did it on their own: Receiver Marvin Jones Jr. gave one to quarterback Trevor Lawrence for getting his first victory and Wright was also given one and hoisted on the players' shoulders.

The Jaguars hadn't made a field goal in the first five games but Wright went 3-for-3 against the Dolphins (1-5), including a 54-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter.

Next up, use the coming bye week to get healthy and end another skid.

Jacksonville is 0-3 in Seattle, where it plays on Halloween. It's part of the franchise's West Coast woes. The Jags are 3-13 on the opposite coast, with all three wins coming in Oakland.

Also of interest. ... Lawrence just keeps getting better.

Lawrence, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, completed 25 of 41 passes for 319 yards and a touchdown Sunday. This marked his third consecutive game without a meaningful interception and his poise in the final minutes was impressive. "You saw a young quarterback make a big-time play at the biggest time of the game," Meyer said of a nine-yard pass from Lawrence to wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. that set up Wright's game-winner.

That Lawrence is the real deal gets clearer by the week.

In addition, Jones enjoyed his first 100-yard game with the Jaguars and showed great hands on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence late in the second quarter. It was Jones' third TD grab of the season and the 54th of his 10-year NFL career. He finished with seven receptions for 100 yards.

Wide receiver/returner Jamal Agnew, who had 100-yard-plus returns for touchdowns in Weeks 2 and 3, had five receptions for 78 yards Sunday. He's proving more each week he can contribute beyond special teams.

But drops also remain an issue.

Tight end Dan Arnold had a key drop that cost the Jaguars a first down; they settled for a first-quarter field goal. Shenault also dropped a catchable pass that could have turned a third-and-15 in the second quarter into a first down.

Such key errors at key times that have cost the Jaguars too often early this season.

"If that's one of the problems, then we'll be solid working through it," Jones said. ...

James Robinson remains the Jaguars' most reliable offensive player. The Dolphins defended Robinson well much of the game and the second-year veteran still managed a very productive 4.3-yards per carry. He finished with 73 yards on 17 carries and got stronger as the game continued with a 10-carry, 51-yard second half.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, B.J. Emmons, James Robinson
WRs: Marvin Jones, Christian Kirk, Laquon Treadwell, Zay Jones, Laviska Shenault, Jamal Agnew
TEs: James O'Shaughnessy, Evan Engram, Chris Manhertz, Luke Farrell, Dan Arnold

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Patrick Mahomes wound up throwing for two touchdowns and 397 yards during the Kansas City Chiefs' 31-13 win over the Washington Football Team on Sunday.

But like seemingly everything with Mahomes and the Chiefs this year, there's a story on how he got there.

And, as ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted, that story is filled with turnovers.

Mahomes threw another two interceptions in the first half, giving him eight on the season -- two more than he had in all of 2020.

He was blameless on one, as Tyreek Hill deflected it to a Washington defender -- the third time Mahomes has been intercepted this season after a pass deflected off a member of the Chiefs. On the other, Mahomes forced a throw to tight end Travis Kelce to avoid a sack but got nothing on the throw and it fluttered to Washington cornerback Bobby McCain.

"That was bad," Mahomes said. "First off, I dropped the snap trying to get out of there too fast to get it to Darrel Williams. I picked it up and was going to run outside and then I saw Trav, and then the rest you can kind of see. It was bad.

"It's probably going to be on 'C'mon, Man,' or something like that."

But unlike the Chiefs' recent games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Buffalo Bills, the Chiefs eventually turned things around. Mahomes completed 19 of 24 passes for 175 yards and both of his touchdowns in the second half.

"The biggest thing is guys keep believing in me," Mahomes said. "That was a big thing to me. Orlando [Brown], Travis, Tyreek, all of those guys came right up to me and were like, 'You keep being you. We know you're competing. We know who you are. Don't let that one thing affect how you play.'

"You saw it in the second half. I kept throwing across my body and doing a lot of different types of stuff because I know those guys believe in me, and I'm going to keep fighting until the end. I move on to the next play. In this league, you're going to go through adversity. We've been blessed enough that I haven't had to deal with a lot of that early in my career.

"I've had a lot of interceptions this year. It's not a secret. You just have to be able to move on. You just have to keep playing, because at the end of the day, the interceptions are on the stat sheet, but if you win the game, nobody cares."

The Chiefs had a third first-half turnover, a fumble by Mecole Hardman. They have 12 turnovers in their past four games and their 14 turnovers on the season are the worst in the NFL. But turnovers are correctable, which has coach Andy Reid feeling optimistic about what the Chiefs can be if they quit turning it over so frequently.

"We're going to get it turned around," Reid said. "Then it will be a pretty nice picture."

Meanwhile, as Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, the Chiefs' much-maligned defense delivered its strongest performance of the season in a victory Sunday, holding Washington to 13 points and just 276 yards while delivering a shutout in the second half.

The showing served as a dramatic turnaround for a defense entering the game ranked last in the league allowing 32.6 points per game.

Reid credited a game plan devised by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo generating more production at the line of scrimmage.

The Chiefs allowed Washington just 76 yards in the second half. Reid wants to see his team playing more complementary football in the weeks ahead.

"Listen, if you can get the offense and defense playing well, then you see what you got to see that second half," Reid said. "It's important that we keep growing there and that we do eliminate the turnovers and we create turnovers, all of those things that you're supposed to do to win football games, and then have a solid special teams unit.

"But that's what we're striving for, and I know our guys are hungry to do that, and so we'll keep working at it."

They'll need to do that going up against Derrick Henry and the Titans in Tennessee on Sunday. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Chiefs converted 11 of 17 third-down attempts on Sunday, including eight in a row during the second half. Mahomes completed 11 of 13 for 156 yards, including a touchdown and nine conversions on third downs, and scrambled for two first downs as well. Reid's offense leads the league with a 60.3 percent conversion rate on third down, well ahead of Tampa Bay at No. 2 with 49.4 percent.

"We've been able to keep for the most part our third downs in a reasonably manageable position and that helps," Reid said. "Whether it's the first, second-down calls, the guys making plays on those downs, and then that always helps you, normally your percentage goes up."

Williams generated 89 yards from scrimmage in the first regular-season start of his four-year NFL career. Williams also reached the end zone twice on Sunday while filling in for injured starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Mahomes said Sunday's effort illustrated why teammates have confidence when Williams is in the backfield.

"He's gonna battle, he's gonna run for those tough yards," Mahomes said. "If he gets a crease, he can make some plays happen. You've seen that in big moments of his entire career and today was a big moment for him to step into that number one role. I think he did a great job doing that. ..."

He'll continue to get those opportunities in another favorable matchup against the Titans' defense. ..

Hill recorded nine receptions on 12 targets for 76 yards and a touchdown against Washington.

As CBSSports.com noted, Hill entered Sunday questionable with a quad injury, and it appeared that he had aggravated the issue when he exited the game in the first half. That limited him to only two receptions for 25 yards through two quarters, but he returned to the game and came alive to put up 51 yards on seven catches to close the game. He also chipped in his fifth touchdown of the season when he reached the end zone on a two-yard reception late in the third quarter.

Hill has now commanded double-digit targets in four of six games this season, which has translated to at least seven receptions in four contests.

Kelce finished Sunday's win with eight receptions on 11 targets for 99 yards.

Kelce suffered an apparent injury to his left arm in the second half and was examined on the sideline, as reported by James Palmer of NFL Network. However, he returned to the game and appeared to put the issue behind him to record a season-high eight receptions.

He also topped 75 receiving yards for the first time since Week 3, in large part due to receptions of 20, 19 and 17 yards. For the season, Kelce has only one game with fewer than five catches and 50 yards. ...

After Josh Gordon's debut on Sunday Night Football against the Buffalo Bills, Reid seemed disappointed the wideout only played nine snaps. Reid said that the plan was for Gordon to see around 20 snaps, but since the Chiefs were down, the hurry-up offense prevented that.

Therefore, it was thought that Gordon would see more time against Washington, but he only saw 11 snaps.

"Yeah, it just didn't work out that way, but we'll keep bringing him along," said Reid. "I think he's just starting to get comfortable with this whole thing. We had him in for a couple few plays. I don't know what it totaled out, but he'll be fine. We just keep working through everything."

So perhaps there will be more playing time for Gordon against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. ...

On the injury front. ... Hill was held out of practice Wednesday to rest that sore quad; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in coming days. ...

Backup tight end Jody Fortson suffered a torn Achilles tendon against Washington and is expected to head to injured reserve soon. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens (elbow) and fullback Michael Burton (pectoral) both left Sunday's game early and are undergoing further evaluation.

And finally. ... Safety Tyrann Mathieu got heated during the first half of Sunday's win over Washington and he remained so on Twitter after the game.

Mathieu engaged with critics of him and the team on social media and, per Teicher, said in response to someone tweeting about a missed tackle that he fractured his thumb during the game. That tweet has been deleted and Mathieu made no mention of the thumb issue in his postgame comments to the media.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon, Derrick Gore, Ronald Jones
WRs: Mecole Hardman, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Marcus Kemp, JuJu Smith-Schuster
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell

Las Vegas Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez reported, an emotional win Sunday for the Raiders ended a painful week for the team.

The Raiders beat the Denver Broncos 34-24 in their first game since Jon Gruden resigned as coach in the aftermath of his email scandal, and their first game with Rich Bisaccia as interim coach.

It was also the first game Bisaccia, a longtime special teams coordinator whose career began in 1983, worked as a head coach at any level.

"The best part for me was to be able to get on the grass," Bisaccia said. "The worst part for me was figuring out the headset. Once you get on the field and the game goes, a lot of my responsibilities were the same. There was a pretty good dialogue between myself and [offensive coordinator Greg Olson], and myself and Gus [Bradley, defensive coordinator]. ... It was really a collective effort going through the game.

"Certainly, it's emotional for everybody, right? So, I think they did a good job. It's a bunch of grown men, handling their emotions throughout the week, putting them in perspective when it was time to go play the game. It's a job for all of us. They seemed to do a really good job with it. We'll see what goes on."

The offense responded to Olson taking over play calling duties from Gruden as Derek Carr authored his fourth 300-plus passing yard game of the season (the only Raiders quarterback with more such games in the first six games of a season was Rich Gannon, who had five in his 2002 MVP season).

According to Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow, Olson utilized more play-action, allowing Carr to hit some more big plays that had been lacking the previous two games when the offense stalled, leading the Raiders to a 34-24 win Sunday over the Denver Broncos.

While the foundation of the offense is still what Gruden installed in the offseason, Olson put his own twist on it against the Broncos.

"The advantage to us, this is the first game 'Oly' called in a while," Bisaccia said. "They were trying to figure out what we were going to do. ... I thought we ran the ball better. A little bit more play-action look to us today and we moved Derek out of the pocket. Offensively those guys did a great job with that, so it was fun to watch again."

The Raiders more than doubled their play-action rate with Olson calling plays, using it on a season-high nine drop backs, according to Pro Football Focus.

That helped open the deep game as Carr averaged 18.9 yards per completion for the highest rate for a Raiders QB in 10 years. He gained 219 yards on passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield, according to Sportradar, for the third most in a game in his career.

The Raiders had seven pass plays gain at least 25 yards, becoming the first team since at least 1991 to do that in a game, according to Sportradar. Their previous high was four in 2012 against Atlanta, and no team had even had six in a game since Detroit did it against the Bears in 2015.

The big plays were spread around with Henry Ruggs III getting two, and Kenyan Drake, Josh Jacobs, Bryan Edwards, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow all getting one.

Carr got things started with a 48-yard TD pass to Ruggs on the opening drive to end an 11-game drought without points on the first drive. He also threw a 31-yard TD pass to Drake and had a 51-yard pass to Edwards that helped put the game away in the fourth quarter.

It added up to the most efficient day on offense for the Raiders in nearly a quarter-century with their 8.19 yards per play doubling the rate of the final two games under Gruden, and were the most for the team in a game since Sept. 14, 1997, against Atlanta (9.20).

"For us, we are always looking to push the ball down the field," Carr said. "We always believe we can do that."

Ruggs caught three passes for 97 yards while Jacobs rushed for 53 yards and a TD on 16 carries and the oft-forgotten Drake scored twice, once by air and once by ground.

Carr credited the team's leadership with not letting the emotions swallow them up this week.

"More now than ever, we had to step up and be a voice," said Carr, who threw for 341 yards and two touchdowns in completing 18 of 27 passes for a 134.4 passer rating, his highest rating in almost three years. "There will be a time for all the emotions, but now is not the time. If anything, what this did was it, for sure, brought us closer. ... We needed a win bad this week.

"It sucks not hugging Gru' after a game like that. Some of the plays we ran, he would have been so fired up, but it is what it is and we need to move forward. For those three hours, it's definitely easier to just focus on football."

Defensively, the Raiders forced four turnovers -- interceptions by Brandon Facyson, Tre'von Moehrig and Johnathan Abram, and a fumble recovered by Denzel Perryman that was forced by Solomon Thomas -- and Maxx Crosby had three sacks.

It was the first time the Raiders committed zero turnovers but had four takeaways in a road game since Week 7 of the 1988 season at Kansas City, when Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson each rushed for a TD and Vann McElroy picked off Steve DeBerg twice.

An emotional bump after such a week was expected.

Unknown, though, was whether it would be positive or negative. It ended up being positive as the Raiders improved to 4-2 and ended a two-game losing streak as they prepare to play host to the Philadelphia Eagles next week before enjoying their bye.

Bisaccia is just the second in-season replacement coach in Raiders history to win his debut, joining Art Shell, who beat the New York Jets in 1989. Tony Sparano (2014), Tom Cable (2008), Red Conkright (1962) and Marty Feldman (1961) all lost their debuts with the Raiders.

Part of the reason team owner Mark Davis promoted Bisaccia was that, in his role as special teams coordinator, he was already working with players from both sides of the ball.

"Coach Bisaccia has been incredible my whole time for the Raiders," Crosby said. "He took me under his wing since I got there. If I needed, literally, anything, talking about life, talking about football, I'm talking about anything, he was always there for me. I can't say enough good things about him. I'm just glad we got the win for him."

The next question is whether they can maintain their emotional momentum?

Time will tell, but with a home game next, against the Eagles, and the bye week following, Gutierrez believes the emotional high of ending a two-game losing streak should sustain. ... For at least another week.

Other notes of interest. ... While the overall outcome this week was fine, Jacobs has played four games this season and has failed to average 3.5 yards a carry in any of them. He's the first Raiders player since Tyrone Wheatley in 2000 to have four straight games with at least 10 carries and less than 3.5 yards per carry.

On the injury front. ... LB Nick Kwiatkoski (foot) and S Roderic Teamer (shoulder) dealt with injuries during the game but Kwiatkoski was able to return.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, Nick Mullens
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah, Peyton Barber, Jalen Richard, Kenyan Drake
WRs: Hunter Renfrow, Davante Adams, DeSean Jackson, Demarcus Robinson, Keelan Cole, Dillon Stoner, Mack Hollins
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Jacob Hollister, Nick Bowers, Daniel Helm, Derek Carrier, Matt Bushman

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy suggested, the good news for Brandon Staley and the Los Angeles Chargers is they go into their bye week tied for the AFC West lead at 4-2.

The bad news is that they are coming off their worst game of the season.

The Chargers were outplayed in all three phases during their 34-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, something that the first-year coach wasn't afraid to admit.

"I think where we need to go is we need to learn from this, because there's plenty in this game we need to learn from," Staley said. "I think the bye comes at a good time for us to get rested and get back and be ready to go against a really good New England team."

Justin Herbert's 67.8 passer rating was the second lowest of his career after he completed 22 of 39 passes for 195 yards with a touchdown and interception. Without two starters on the offensive line, Herbert was pressured 13 times for the second straight game.

The biggest area of concern though remains run defense. The Ravens ran it 38 times for 187 yards, and had three ball carriers with at least 44 yards.

Through six games, Los Angeles is allowing a league-worst 162.5 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry.

Staley said Tuesday through Thursday will be spent self-scouting before the coaching staff takes the weekend off.

Despite the lopsided loss on Sunday, one positive to take away is the Chargers' record as they enter their bye.

Through six games, the Chargers have faced four teams that played in last year's playoffs and head into the bye week at 4-2.

Herbert, who reached 6,000 career passing yards on Sunday, talked about the good timing of the bye coming in Week 7.

"I think it comes at a good time," Herbert said. "Allows our guys up front to get their legs back and to have a week of rest and enough weeks to watch the film and get back over it. There's a lot of good film…there's a lot to learn from so it's going to be a good teaching lesson for us."

Staley talked about the Bolts' ability to battle it out during a tough stretch of teams through the first chunk of the season and discussed where the team is following their loss in Baltimore.

"I know that we've played six really good teams, we're 4-2," Staley said. "We've beat four really good teams; we've lost to two really good teams. That's what I told the team, I think that's where the truth is, and I think where we need to go is we need to learn from this game because there's plenty in this game that we need to learn from. I think that the bye is coming at a good time for us. Get rested up and then come back and be ready to go against a really good New England team."

When the Chargers return from the bye week, they won't face a team over .500 until Cincinnati in early December.

They'll host the Patriots on Oct. 31. The Chargers have won eight of their past 10 games since a 45-0 loss to the Patriots on Dec. 6.

Other notes of interest. ... Keenan Allen has at least five catches in five of six games this season. Allen, who had five receptions for 50 yards, is third in the AFC with 39 catches through Sunday's games and remains on pace for his fourth season with at least 100 catches in the past five years.

Allen though had all of his catches against the Ravens during the first and fourth quarters. He was not targeted in the second and third.

Mike Williams caught two of five targets for 27 yards.

Williams was quiet throughout, but his first catch was a big one, as it went for 26 yards and set up a one-yard Jared Cook touchdown catch on the next play.

As CBSSports.com notes, little went right for the Chargers in general, as nobody on the team exceeded 50 yards rushing or receiving, so it's hard to tell how much of a role the knee injury Williams has been nursing played in his ineffectiveness. He spent much of the fourth quarter on the sidelines, but Jeff Miller of the Los Angeles Times believes Williams was being held out as a precaution given the game's blowout nature.

The banged-up wide receiver will get an opportunity to heal further during the Chargers' Week 7 bye. ...

Tristan Vizcaino missed another extra point on Sunday and is 10 for 15 on PATs this season.

While trying to bolster Vizcaino's confidence would help, it would be better if the Chargers could bolster the ride side of the line on their extra point attempts. ...

By the way, it took Herbert 21 games to reach 6,000 passing yards, which is the second fewest in NFL history. Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes accomplished it in 19 games.

And finally. ... The Chargers are expected to sign former Texans receiver Andre Roberts, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

The former Pro Bowl punt and kick returner quickly has a new landing spot.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, Larry Rountree III
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, DeAndre Carter, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed, Maurice Ffrench
TEs: Gerald Everett, Stephen Anderson, Tre' McKitty, Donald Parham

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry noted, the Rams have entered a three-game stretch against opponents with losing records, but proved Sunday in a 38-11 rout of the Giants that they did not let their struggling opponent affect their preparation.

Chalk that up to a lesson learned after they were unprepared in a Week 4 loss to the Cardinals, a team they had previously defeated in eight consecutive meetings.

The defense arrived in New York ready to play and forced a season-high four turnovers. The offense capitalized and converted three of those takeaways into touchdowns.

Can the Rams maintain consistency with the Lions and Texans next?

Sean McVay seems determined to make sure that's the case.

According to Associated Press sports writer Dan Greenspan, when McVay called out his Los Angeles Rams for starting slowly in New York on Sunday, it could have been dismissed as a way to keep their attention with another losing team on deck.

Except McVay might actually have a point, as the Rams were held scoreless in the first quarter for the third time in their past four games.

"The enemy has a say as we all know, but I think there were some things execution-wise, and then I'm annoyed with myself on some decisions," McVay said. "I think we can be in some better spots."

After getting out to fast starts in their first two games, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter against Chicago and Indianapolis with new quarterback Matthew Stafford directing opening drives that ended in touchdowns, the Rams (5-1) have scored just 10 points since.

That production came in a Week 4 loss to Arizona, where Stafford threw an interception to blunt Los Angeles' early momentum.

Otherwise, the issues that plagued the Rams in the first quarter against the Giants reflected lingering concerns. Running back Darrell Henderson Jr. had two carries that netted a single yard, putting added stress on Stafford and the offensive line to generate production through the air. Stafford was sacked twice, both on third down, as the absence of balance gave an edge to New York's pass rush.

But a home game against Detroit this week should give the Rams a chance to play up to their potential, as the Lions (0-6) have allowed 24 points in the first quarter. And wide receiver Cooper Kupp said it's not the worst thing to have parts of their game to improve on, even as the wins keep on coming.

"I think it does speak to the standard we have as a team, as an offense, what we're supposed to do, and I think we try to live it out every day being process-oriented over results," Kupp said.

Meanwhile, Stafford was asked about facing his former team, who visit Los Angeles on Sunday.

"Just like every other game," Stafford said when asked how he'd prepare for his former team, per Thiry. "It's an NFL opponent coming into our building."

Stafford spent his first 12 NFL seasons in Detroit after being the No. 1 overall pick in 2009. He holds every significant Lions passing record. Stafford admitted that seeing former teammates before the contest will be the only time it feels different.

"In pregame, am I going to be saying hey to some old teammates and friends, the Ford family, hopefully, if they make the trip? Absolutely," Stafford said. "I've got nothing but great relationships with people over there, so have a lot of respect for the organization, the team, the ownership."

He added: "It will be just another football game once the ball is snapped."

Like many predicted, Stafford has shined in Sean McVay's system. His big arm opens up the offense and he's able to throw into massive windows. Stafford's 16 touchdowns ranks third in the NFL through six weeks, behind only Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady.

Facing another rebuild, the Lions agreed to trade the 33-year-old Stafford this offseason. Despite other good offers reportedly on the table, Detroit accommodated the QB's preference to go to L.A. and team up with McVay. In exchange, the Lions received two first-round picks and QB Jared Goff.

Sunday will mark Goff's return to L.A., where he was viewed as holding back McVay's offense in previous seasons.

Whatever the case, there's no denying that when Stafford gets in a rhythm, the Rams' aerial game is a thing of beauty. He was 22 of 28 passing for 251 yards and four touchdowns with an interception, relying primarily on Kupp as his main option. With another four completions covering at least 25 yards, big plays continue to come in bunches with Stafford at the helm.

It would help if they made a concerted effort to run over the entirety of games. Henderson and Sony Michel continue to be effective in closing out games, combining for 120 yards rushing on 30 carries.

However, McVay will have to give them more touches in the first half as the season goes on, if only to create more deep ball chances off play action as opponents recalibrate to defend Stafford.

Still, this week, it's all about quarterback reunions.

Expect Stafford's to be more pleasant when all is said and done. ...

On the injury front. ... The Rams lost tight end Johnny Mundt and running back Jake Funk to season-ending injuries, McVay announced Monday.

Mundt tore an anterior cruciate ligament and Funk tore a hamstring.

The Rams will place both on season-ending injured reserve.

"It's a bummer for both of those guys," McVay said, via Stu Jackson of the team website. "Two losses on guys that have really done a nice job continuing to improve, and we'll have to have some guys to step up in those two players' absences."

The Rams' other tight ends are Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins and Jacob Harris on their 53-player roster and Kendall Blanton on their practice squad. Higbee has started every game and has 22 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Harris has played only six offensive snaps and 96 on special teams. Hopkins has yet to play this season.

Michel has a shoulder injury and backup quarterback John Wolford a neck injury, but McVay expects both players to be OK.

The Rams lost a pair of players for the season during Sunday's rout of the Giants and they made a couple of moves to fill their spots on the roster Tuesday.

Defensive back Donte Deayon and running back Buddy Howell were signed to the active roster from the practice squad. Howell played 33 special teams snaps over two games earlier this season. He spent the last three seasons as a core special teamer in Houston.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Cam Akers, Jake Funk, Darrell Henderson, Javian Hawkins
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson, Van Jefferson, Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, Landen Akers
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Kendall Blanton, Brycen Hopkins, Jacob Harris

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques suggested, we all know the old saying about the NFL: On any given Sunday any team can get a win. ...

But this past Sunday in London, the Miami Dolphins (1-5) lost a game they were not supposed to lose.

At least, that was the thought before their 23-20 loss to the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars. It might be time to adjust expectations for a Miami team that was supposed to challenge for a playoff spot.

Since 1990, 111 teams have started their season 1-5 and only three bounced back to make the playoffs. That was, of course, during the six-team playoff era, not the seven-team format that began last season, but at this rate the playoffs seem like a pipe dream for the Dolphins no matter how many teams qualify.

After winning its season opener, Miami has lost five straight, including Sunday against a team that had lost its previous 20.

"It's frustrating, but this is the business we're in," tight end Mike Gesicki said. "We've just got to make a couple more plays -- we are extremely close."

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa returned to the field after a three-game absence and wasn't perfect but still threw for 329 yards, completing 70 percent of his 47 passes.

But his return couldn't mask issues that have plagued the Dolphins all season.

Their defense allowed 6.4 yards per play despite holding Jacksonville to 3-for-12 on third down. They failed to protect a two-score lead for the second time this season -- and they have only held two multiple-score leads.

Sunday's loss wasn't the final nail in the Dolphins' playoff coffin -- there are still 11 games left -- but it sure feels like rock bottom.

"I'm not doing a good enough job," head coach Brian Flores said. "Not playing consistently enough. Not coaching well enough. Not playing well enough. ... Consistent ball -- first half, a little bit in the second half, but we're just not putting it together. That starts with me."

Miami sent its 2022 first-round pick to the Eagles this offseason as part of its trade up to No. 6 overall in the 2021 draft to select wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Teams don't make a move like that unless they expect to be a playoff team, which didn't seem like a stretch for Miami after winning 10 games in 2020.

But it might be time to come to terms with the fact that the Dolphins are not a playoff team.

The season is more than one-third of the way done. Miami is three games out of the final playoff spot and its Week 7 opponent, the 2-3 Atlanta Falcons, can't be viewed as a "get right" game anymore.

Right now, Miami is the get-right opponent for other teams. The Jaguars proved as much this week.

"We are a young team. We have to get better," defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said. "Hate losing. We have to do a better job closing out games and finishing games, and we're going to keep fighting. That's the type of spirit we got. We're going to keep fighting till the very end."

Nobody is doubting that Dolphins players will keep fighting. But if they are indeed what they put on film, their effort level can only get them so far.

This just might not be the type of team their front office thought it was entering the season.

On area of specific need: Can Miami figure out how to play from ahead?

The Dolphins haven't led too often this season, but they have held multiple-score leads twice and failed to keep either. In fact, Miami is one of only three teams - Cleveland and Seattle are the others - to lose two games after leading by at least 10 points so far this season.

And the Dolphins have been outscored by 78 points this season, the second-worst differential in the league behind Houston's minus-80.

Miami led 13-3 against one of the worst teams in the NFL and didn't finish the job. If putting consistent drives together is the first step toward fixing Miami's problems on both sides of the ball, the second is learning how to finish -- especially with another must-win game in Week 7.

Against Atlanta, Miami will be seeking to avoid what would be the sixth instance in the past 18 seasons of starting 1-6 or worse. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The rushing attack remains a weakness.

The Dolphins had fourth-and-1 from their 46 on two different occasions in the last 6 1/2 minutes - they punted the first time, then didn't get the yard the second time and gave the ball back to Jacksonville for what became the winning drive. Miami ran the ball 20 times for 77 yards, no runner gaining more than 24 on the day.

On the injury front. ... Not having cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard clearly hurt Miami on Sunday. That's a lot of depth to not have at one position, and the secondary faces Atlanta's Matt Ryan this weekend. They'll also be without Will Fuller V, who remains on IR with an injured thumb. The status of DeVante Parker, who missed a second-straight game with hamstring and shoulder issues will also be something we watch for in coming days.

Worth noting, Parker was on the practice field to open the week Wednesday; running back Malcolm Brown (ribs) was limited.

I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater, Reid Sinnett
RBs: Sony Michel, Chase Edmonds, Phillip Lindsay, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Jaylen Waddle, Tyreek Hill, Cedrick Wilson, Trent Sherfield, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Isaiah Ford
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Hunter Long

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Minnesota is 3-3 entering a Week 7 bye. The Vikings have won three of their last four games and their three losses are by a combined 11 points.

As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin put it, "Style points be damned in the NFL, where parity makes wins difficult to come by for any team, but the way these games have gone for the Vikings is particularly taxing."

"I'm spent," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "It's an absolute grind every Sunday, and it takes everything I got, and I've been on the other side of those losses during my career the last 10 years. It's rewarding when you know how the other side feels, too, and to really enjoy it when you do make the play and win."

Fortunately, Cousins is getting some unexpected help. It came to the fore in Carolina this past weekend.

As the veteran signal caller rolled to the right out on third down in overtime of a game the Vikings badly needed to win, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen were covered.

K.J. Osborn was open on a crossing route, so Cousins delivered a difficult throw on the run and off balance. Osborn secured the crucial catch for 13 yards, despite the ball being slightly behind him and dangerously close to the Carolina cornerback in coverage.

Four plays later, Osborn was diving across the front corner of the end zone to win the game.

Finally, in his fourth season with the Vikings, Cousins has a viable No. 3 wide receiver to go to.

"He's done everything right. I'm just happy it's now showing up in games and that it's showing up a lot in crunch time, too," Cousins said after the 34-28 victory over the Panthers.

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell notes, Osborn was obviously not the primary option for Cousins on the third-and-3 play from the Minnesota 43. Nor was he the first read on the winner, a 27-yard score on a corner route he used to beat the safety in one-on-one coverage.

"I've learned and taught myself, playing under Adam and Justin, to expect the ball every play. It doesn't matter what the play call is," said Osborn, who had six receptions for 78 yards on seven targets against the Panthers.

Jefferson and Thielen form one of the NFL's best pass-catching tandems, as Stefon Diggs did with Thielen in the years prior to Jefferson. They draw plenty of attention, though, with safeties often rolling toward them to try to take away Minnesota's best weapons. That's why a productive and reliable third downfield option is so important.

"I'm so blessed to be able to play with those guys. Justin's even younger, and they teach me so much just by their actions and how they play the game," Osborn said.

Osborn was drafted in the fifth round last season out of Miami, where he finished college as a graduate transfer from Buffalo. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Osborn, primarily picked for his ability to return kickoffs and punts, was one of many rookies last year whose development was stunted by the COVID-19 restrictions that limited offseason activity.

This year, with a regular spring and summer of work, Osborn was one of the true standouts for the Vikings during training camp. Kansas City (1,321), the Los Angeles Rams (1,272) and Tampa Bay (1,247) are the only teams in the league with more combined receiving yardage from their top three pass catchers than the Vikings (1,246) with Jefferson, Thielen and Osborn.

"You can be hidden behind those guys. They get so many touches, but K.J. is so wide open sometimes, you've just got to give him the ball," running back Dalvin Cook said.

Meanwhile, the offensive line produced its best overall performance of the season. Cousins was not sacked, Cook rushed for 140 yards for his most in 11 games, and the Vikings - albeit with the extra plays in overtime - finished with 571 yards for the third-highest single-game total in team history. That all came against a defense that still ranks in the top five in the NFL in fewest yards allowed, sacks per pass attempt and lowest third-down conversion percentage against.

"We came out there and dominated the whole day," rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw said.

The Vikings will have their work cut out for them keeping that dominance going. The next four opponents have a combined 19-5 record, beginning with a night game at home against Dallas on Oct. 31.

Then the Vikings visit Baltimore and the Los Angeles Chargers before hosting Green Bay on Nov. 21. ...

On the injury front. ... The Vikings are remarkably healthy entering their bye, but their one concern is a big one. Cornerback Patrick Peterson went on injured reserve on Monday after hurting his hamstring late in the fourth quarter against the Panthers. Defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who missed his second straight game with an elbow injury, is on track for a post-bye return, head coach Mike Zimmer said.

The Vikings will have one of their draft picks back after their bye week.

Minnesota announced on Tuesday that the club has activated running back Kene Nwangwu off of injured reserve.

Nwangwu went on IR at the start of the season after suffering a knee injury during the preseason. The Vikings selected Nwangwu in the fourth round of this year's draft out of Iowa State. He rushed for 744 yards in 48 collegiate games.

As a corresponding move, the Vikings released running back Ameer Abdullah.

Abdullah had appeared in all six games for Minnesota, returning kicks for the last three. Abdullah also took seven carries for 30 yards and caught three passes for 17 yards.

And finally. ... One thing that must be corrected: Greg Joseph missed field goals from 50 and 47 yards in the fourth quarter, after making a 54-yarder on the final play to beat Detroit the previous week. He's 13 for 17 on field goals this season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion, Kellen Mond
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Dede Westbrook, Adam Thielen
TEs: Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr., Johnny Mundt

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once famously coined the phrase, "You are what your record says you are."

The 2021 New England Patriots are a 2-4 football team after Sunday's crushing 35-29 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium.

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss understated, that's not very good.

While there have been glimpses of hope, good teams still find a way to win the games the Patriots are losing.

And good teams don't open the season 0-4 at home.

So, while there might be some promising signs -- such as quarterback Mac Jones' resilience and a stingy short-yardage run defense -- the bottom line is the Patriots, who next play host to the New York Jets on Sunday, have to start closing teams out when they have a chance. The opportunities were plentiful against the Cowboys.

Are the Patriots capable of beating top teams? Their wins are over the Jets and Texans, and while they've been close in others, they haven't been able to get over the hump. Often times, it just comes down to one play and they haven't been able to make them in the critical situations.

Third-and-long on defense, in particular, has been a trouble spot and it showed up again to help the Cowboys set up their game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.

"When you look at the big picture, you never want to say you're close; it's hard to do that," Jones said. "But the games we've lost we've been two or three plays away. I guess that's how the NFL works, and I'm learning that the hard way."

Added center David Andrews: "A few plays here or there, but that's how it goes in this league. There's not a big margin for error."

If the Patriots truly want to be considered a good team, it's time for them to start making those plays.

The Patriots can say they're one play away from being where they want to be, but they have not proven they can consistently make them when the game is on the line.

That said, there were positives in the Dallas game.

The offense scored a touchdown on its only trip inside the red zone, a 20-yard pass from Jones to tight end Hunter Henry in the first quarter. That's its best showing inside the 20 this season.

Jones had his best game of the season completing deep passes Sunday, going 6 of 7 for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He also finished with a season-high 10.9 yards per passing attempt.

But the biggest positive is a visit from the struggling Jets, who have lost two of three since their turnover-filled 25-6 loss to the Patriots in Week 2. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Penalties continue to hurt the Patriots. They had five for 47 yards Sunday, their fifth game with five or more this season. New England had only six such games in all of last season.

The costliest was in the second quarter, when the Patriots appeared to add to their 14-7 lead with a 25-yard TD pass from Jones to Meyers. But the points were taken off the scoreboard by a hold on left guard James Ferentz.

Generally speaking, the offensive line took a step back Sunday as it continues to deal with multiple injuries.

The group gave up two sacks and allowed Jones to be hit five times. Backup right tackle Yodny Cajuste has played well the past two weeks, but allowed defensive end Randy Gregory to blow past him and knock the ball free when he sacked Jones from behind in the second quarter. Chauncey Golston recovered for the Cowboys, leading to a 30-yard field goal that pulled Dallas within 14-10.

Another major negative?

The Patriots' minus-three turnover differential on the season. Their 11 turnovers on offense are tied with Houston for the third most in the NFL. ...

Damien Harris carried the ball 18 times for 101 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. He turned his lone target into a seven-yard catch. It was Harris' first 100-yard rushing performance since Week 1 and it was his second-consecutive week with a rushing touchdown.

All this despite the fact he went into the weekend listed as questionable with a rib injury.

Rhamondre Stevenson compiled 23 yards and a touchdown on five carries. He added three catches (on three targets) for an additional 39 yards. While you would almost certainly have more viable options on a normal week, a bye-heavy schedule and attrition around the league could put you in a bind.

Stevenson should be viewed as a potential flex play against the Jets in Week 7, especially for those dealing with absences above him on your rosters.

Henry corralled 2-of-2 targets for 25 yards and the above-mentioned touchdown. He made the most of his fewest targets on the year (after being targeted eight times in Week 5).

Even with the varied target totals, the good news is Henry has scored a touchdown in three-straight games. In a shallow positional pool, that touchdown equity matters. It's also the reason Jonnu Smith should be riding your fantasy pine. ...

On the injury front. ... The Patriots had eight players listed as questionable heading into Sunday's game. That list could grow this week after safety Adrian Phillips (foot), cornerback Jonathan Jones (ribs) and linebackers Christian Barmore (shoulder) and Chase Winovich (hamstring) all left the game with injuries -- although Winovich went on IR on Tuesday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, James White
WRs: Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kristian Wilkerson, N'Keal Harry, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery
TEs: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Beyond the New Orleans Saints' quarterback transition from Drew Brees to Jameis Winston, and the club's month-long displacement by Hurricane Ida, there has been the challenge of having half-dozen or more prominent players unavailable because of injury or suspension.

The Saints (3-2) still managed to take a winning record into this week's bye, and are hoping to welcome a handful of players back to action when they return to the field.

Those missing entirely during the first five games included two-time All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas (ankle surgery), starting wideout Tre'Quan Smith (hamstring), starting defensive tackle David Onyemata (suspension), tight end Nick Vannett and kicker Wil Lutz.

Meanwhile, starting center Erik McCoy (calf) hasn't played since the first quarter of the regular season opener, starting defensive end Marcus Davenport (shoulder) and starting linebacker Kwon Alexander (elbow) haven't played since Week 1.

Left tackle Terron Armstead has missed two games since his Week 3 elbow injury; running back Tony Jones Jr., a regular in the backfield behind Alvin Kamara, went out with an ankle injury early in a Week 4 loss to the New York Giants.

And during last weekend's game at Washington, two more key players went down. Return specialist and receiver Deonte Harris injured his hamstring and reserve QB Taysom Hill, who also plays tight end, had to be carted to the locker room after a heavy and penalized hit to the head while he was trying to catch a pass.

After those latest injuries, the Saints were nonetheless able to pull away from Washington for a 33-22 victory.

As Associated Press sport writer Brett Martel pointed out, in a decade-and-a-half as a head coach in New Orleans, Sean Payton said he has learned a few things about how best to try to remain competitive when so many prominent starters or regulars are down at once.

"The first thing is attitude," Payton said. "I just I hate being around, you know, this idea of: Well, we're (short-handed), you know, with the excuse already built in. That can be extremely contagious in a negative way.

"Then your job then is to look at who you have, and then try to put them in the best positions to be successful," Payton continued. "I mean, I just think that's what we're paid to do. And in this league, there's no utopia. There's no, everyone is healthy this week. It is just ever-changing and you hope your number (of injuries) is at the right time reduced rather than increased."

And then there's the hard work of preparing the roster - including the practice squad - for the eventuality of injuries at key. While fans may be fixated on players available in a given week for their fantasy teams and leagues, Payton said he and his staff cannot afford to neglect players who won't likely be in the game plan in the current week, but could be down the line.

"It seems like a cliché, but, man, they're all of these guys, the (reserves) that are on the active roster, the guys that may be on a practice squad," Payton began. "They have to be ready to play and if they're not progressing where you don't have a vision, then you need to turn that part of the roster and keep looking for guys that you feel like can help you if the time comes."

One example would be offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton, a practice squad player last year who has been thrust into a starting role at right guard since McCoy went down and Cesar Ruiz moved from guard to center.

Now, having proven themselves competitive despite being short-handed, the Saints are eagerly anticipating the return of a number of key players shortly after the bye as they begin preparations for a Monday night game against the Seahawks.

Thomas, who in 2019 set an NFL record with 149 catches in a season, will be eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list this week, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Thomas is still a couple of weeks away from returning to action.

Once he gets on the practice field, he can work out with the team for three weeks before they have to activate him or shut him down for the season.

Thomas had ankle surgery in July and his decision to wait until that point caused some animosity between him and the Saints. There was talk about a possible trade, but the two sides appeared to mend their relationship later in the summer.

The Saints rank 31st in the league in passing yards and Thomas' return could help them become more productive through the air in the second half of the season. For now, though, they'll have to keep rolling with Marquez Callaway, Harris, Ty Montgomery, Chris Hogan, Kenny Stills, Lil'Jordan Humphrey -- and perhaps Smith.

Smith could be back as early as Week 7 after being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury in Week 1. According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, Smith should be a prominent part of the rotation along with Thomas -- once he returns, Callaway and Harris, especially with his blocking ability.

Lutz should return this week as well.

The veteran kicker underwent core muscle surgery that's kept him sidelined since August. The Saints placed him on IR at the start of the regular season.

Without Lutz, the Saints have cycled through Aldrick Rosas and Cody Parkey in their first five games. The Saints are just 1-of-4 in field goals and 16-of-18 in extra points.

After cutting Rosas and placing Parkey on IR, New Orleans also brought in Brian Johnson off the Bears practice squad last week.

After being designated to return, Lutz now has a 21-day window to practice with the team before he must be activated to the 53-man roster or will stay on IR through the rest of the season.

I will, of course, have more on all the recently injured, the returnees and potential returnees via Late-Breaking Update once the team hits the field in earnest on Thursday. ...

And finally. ... The Saints are bringing in some depth at running back.

New Orleans is singing Lamar Miller to its practice squad, according to agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Miller made the Pro Bowl for the Texans in 2018, rushing for 973 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught 25 passes for 163 yards with a TD that year.

But Miller tore his ACL in the 2019 preseason and he hasn't played much since then.

Miller's had stints with New England, Chicago, and Washington. He appeared in one game for the Bears in 2020, recording a couple of catches on five offensive snaps.

The Saints could use some depth at running back with Jones on injured reserve with a right ankle sprain.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taysom Hill, Andy Dalton, Ian Book, Jameis Winston
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Marquez Callaway, Tre'quan Smith, Michael Thomas, Deonte Harris
TEs: Adam Trautman, Nick Vannett, Juwan Johnson

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan pointed out, Joe Judge has coached the New York Giants for 22 games and he has gotten all the clichés down.

The season is a marathon. It's only six games into the season. There is a lot of football to be played. No one is giving up. All the injuries? Next man up!

Now forget the clichés.

The Giants are 1-5. They are four games behind Dallas in the NFC East. Their 177 points allowed are tied with Miami for second worst in the league behind Washington. The only team with a worse record is the winless Lions (0-6).

To make matters worse, the Giants are getting worse.

After beating New Orleans in overtime they dropped a 44-20 decision in Dallas (5-1) and then were beaten 38-11 by the Rams (5-1) at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. That's a 24-point loss followed by a 27-point loss.

After a 6-10 record last year and finishing second in the division, this was supposed to be the season the Giants made a playoff run. The way things are going, their relevance this season will end early.

"We're in that submarine right now," Judge said. "If something happens on that submarine, there's got to be someone on that ship to step up and save that thing. You spring a leak, someone's got to plug that thing for you. No one's coming. It won't get there in time to help you if you don't fix it yourselves. That's how we come back on Wednesday."

Wide receiver Sterling Shepard returned from a hamstring injury and was Daniel Jones' only experienced target with Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Darius Slayton hurt. He finished with 10 catches for 76 yards. It was his highest catch total since he had 10 against New Orleans in 2018.

Toney tried to play Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams but didn't last the opening drive. He tweaked an ankle injury in the first quarter and didn't return.

Toney had three catches for 36 yards before aggravating the injury while trying to make yards after the catch. He looked good as he left Rams cornerback Robert Rochell in the dust with a quick change of direction, but Toney was tackled by a pair of defenders near the sideline and again rolled his right ankle.

The first-round pick, selected 20th overall, had a Giants rookie record 189 receiving yards last week against the Dallas Cowboys before being ejected for throwing a punch.

He went through a pregame workout to determine if he could play after coming into the game questionable with the ankle injury. The Giants' brass and medical staff saw enough to believe he was all right to play.

According to SNY.tv's Ralph Vacchiano, Toney's ankle injury is expected to keep him out at least one game. But for now it doesn't sound like they plan to put him on IR. They believe his absence will be shorter than three games.

But two players did go on IR.

Left tackle Andrew Thomas, who missed the Dallas game a week ago with a foot injury, hurt an ankle and did not play in the second half. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton hurt a pectoral muscle and wide receiver/kick returner C.J. Board broke an arm. Thomas and Board were placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

Running back Saquon Barkley (ankle), Golladay (knee), Slayton (hamstring) and guard Ben Bredeson (hand) - all starters - were inactive Sunday and it's not clear if any of them will be ready to go this week.

"I don't have a direct answer on either Kenny or Saquon," Judge said. "We'll see how they go a little bit further into the week. In terms of Kadarius, he's part of that crew that's kind of getting that secondary look. He aggravated his ankle that he dealt with last week a little bit. There was an aggravation when he went out of bounds on that last play, he got stuck on the turf a little bit. We'll see where he turns around and goes."

And the Giants need help.

The offense was limited to a season-low 261 yards, including 60 rushing. The number was padded by 61 yards on New York's final drive. New York turned over the ball four times, with Jones throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble on a sack.

The defense pitched a shutout in the first quarter and then disappeared, allowing 38 points, although the offense helped. Special teams also got a black eye as the Rams threw a first-down pass on a fake punt. New York was saved by offsetting penalties on the play.

The Giants get a week at home to figure out things before playing the slumping Panthers on Sunday. Carolina (3-3) has lost three in a row. It will be the return of former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold to MetLife Stadium.

What do the Giants do now?

After the loss, Judge said that neither he nor anyone else on the team is a quitter and that there's a lot of football still to play this year. Judge vowed that those who stick with the team will be rewarded with better days at an undetermined point in the future.

"This is definitely going to get better. .... I don't know what kind of guarantee [fans] want, but I can assure everyone out there as a Giants fan, and they want to know when it's going to turn, I can tell them we're working tirelessly to make sure we get this thing turned in the right direction, not just for short-term results, but for long-term success," Judge said.

It's hard to believe that.

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan suggests, this team is going nowhere quickly. Do the Giants need to make any significant moves in another lost season? Do they need to clean house afterwards? This is clearly not what ownership wanted from this season after spending recklessly in free agency.

Co-owner John Mara said before the season he expected this team to be in contention for a playoff spot. That is not going to happen.

Are there positives?

Despite missing two games with a hamstring injury, Shepard leads the Giants this season with 28 receptions and is second with 299 yards, 18 less than Toney. He scored the Giants' first touchdown this season on a 37-yard pass from Jones against Denver.

Shepard caught 10 passes for 76 yards on Sunday. He raised his career total to 341 receptions, which moved him past Chris Calloway (334) and into eighth place on the franchise's career list. Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford is seventh with 367. Shepard is fourth among wide receivers in team history, trailing only Amani Toomer (668), Odell Beckham, Jr. (390) and Ike Hilliard (368).

His 76 receiving yards increased Shepard's total to 3,817, which vaulted him over Earnest Gray (3,768) and into 17th place on the franchise list. Lionel Manuel is 16th with 3,941 yards.

Shepard has exceeded 100 receiving yards in 10 games, tying him with Plaxico Burress for ninth on the franchise's career list.

His 10 catches on Sunday increased Shepard's career total to four double-digit reception games (two with 10, two with 11). That is third in Giants history behind Beckham (8) and tight end Jeremy Shockey (6).

So there's that.

Otherwise, I'll have more on Barkley, Golladay, Toney -- none of whom practiced Wednesday -- and Slayton via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jake Fromm, Brian Lewerke, Tyrod Taylor, Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Gary Brightwell, Matt Breida
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, John Ross, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Sterling Shepard
TEs:

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. noted, Robert Saleh spent the past week huddling with his New York Jets coaching staff, eager to figure out how to solve the issues that have contributed to a 1-4 start.

The coach is optimistic his team - players and coaches - will show improvement as it comes out of its bye-week break.

"We feel good about the soundness of the decisions that we're going to make moving forward," Saleh said Monday. "And it's not just a grab bag to try to throw junk at the wall and hope that it sticks."

The Jets have plenty to fix, reflective of a young and inexperienced roster and coaching staff. But a major focus of the brainstorming sessions last week was the offense with rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, and the team's head-shaking trend of terribly slow starts under first-year offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.

New York has scored zero points in the first quarter this season, compiling just 79 total yards. Through two quarters, the Jets have just 13 points and 420 yards, compared to 75 points and 1,031 yards for opponents.

"I thought offensively, Mike and his staff did a really good job digging in deep in terms of what the offense is having success at, what we're not having success at, what the quarterback is having success at versus what he's not having success at," Saleh said. "The splits of first quarter versus second, third, fourth quarter just to see, what is it that he looks most comfortable doing? Having conversations with him to see if we can get into more of a rhythm in the first quarter."

Wilson has struggled, throwing four touchdown passes and a league-leading nine interceptions. He said last week he wants to be "less robotic" on short-yardage plays. There have been flashes of the type of playmaking ability that made him the No. 2 overall pick, mixed with the mistakes of a rookie learning life in the NFL.

Like several players, Wilson went home for a few days over the break to get away from football for a bit - although the quarterback still worked on his game. Saleh spoke to his young QB late in the week and said the two "had a good talk," although the coach also had to issue a reminder.

"I was like, 'Hey, dude, just make sure you go to sleep. Just relax, just lay off a little bit and just relax,'" Saleh said. "He's such a competitor, he's just constantly thinking about it.

"But I do think coaches, players, the organization - even for you guys - to step away and watch somebody else for a minute, it's a good refresher and a chance to come back and see if we can finish this thing strong."

Saleh declined to detail the game plan he and the coaches came up with to change the team's fortunes, saying he wanted to keep that private. He did indicate there have been tweaks off the field to the in-week schedules.

"Yeah, it's subtle," he told reporters. "You guys won't even notice it. It's just subtle in terms of timing and all that stuff. Just trying to get the body clocks moving at an earlier time, as it pertains to the week."

Waszak went on to note that one criticism of the Jets by some fans and media has been the lack of an established identity, particularly on offense. When LaFleur got to New York, it was assumed the Shanahan-style scheme would follow from San Francisco. Instead, there has been no consistency with the Jets' approach because of poor execution and subpar play calling at times.

Saleh did reiterate that he and his staff "stand in lock step" general manager Joe Douglas in building the team from the front lines. The defensive line has been a strength through five games, while the O-line had a tough start but has bounced back in recent weeks.

The O-line's pass protection has been noticeably better since the first three games, when Wilson was sacked a total of 15 times. He has been sacked just three times in the two games since. The running game, however, has stalled, with New York's 3.6 yards per carry better only than Houston and Las Vegas, both averaging a league-low 3.3 yards.

"I think it's starting to get established," Saleh said of the team's identity. "I know it's hard to see right now, but I think in the trenches, I feel like we've been the better team, with the exception of those first couple of weeks. But it's been coming along, and I think our guys are starting to understand where we're going to make hay and where we're going to win football games."

Meanwhile, as NYJets.com's Randy Lange reminded readers that Ty Johnson, with 50 rushing yards, and rookie RB Michael Carter, with 59 yards, led the way in the Jets' 152-yard rushing attack that made things interesting for a while in the Week 2 home loss to the Pats.

That plus Wilson's 210-yard passing game is in the neighborhood of how Saleh and LaFleur envision this West Coast offense working. And how Johnson sees it as well.

"It's complementary football, at the end of the day," the Jets' third-down back said. "If the running game's going, the passing game's going to be good and if the passing game's going, the running game's going to be good. And I think the backs as a unit, we take responsibility. If it's blocked up, we need to be explosive, and if it's not blocked up, we still need to get positive yards. It always falls on the running game, no matter what team it is."

And the Jets would like to show that they're learning how not to be denied with great effort out of the bye at New England on Sunday. ...

Corey Davis comes off the bye with plenty of potential.

With 20 catches, 302 yards and three touchdown catches over the first five weeks, there are reasons for optimism. But with Wilson struggling to deliver on a consistent basis, the pieces around him -- Davis included -- share in those struggles.

Among the positives?

The Jets tend to find themselves passing often while playing from behind.

That works in favor of the other receiving components here as well.

After sitting out the first three games this season, the first due to COVID and the next two because of a groin injury, Jamison Crowder has returned to establish a reliable role in an unreliable offense in his two games back. He caught 4-of-6 targets for 24 yards in Week 5 against the Falcons giving him a total of 11 catches, 85 receiving yards and a touchdown in his two games on the active roster.

Elijah Moore, however, has struggled to find his footing as a rookie. The overall numbers tell the story for Moore, who sat out Week 4 with a concussion. His current totals, eight catches (on 20 targets) for 66 yards spread over four games aren't especially impressive.

Even worse, his role in a Week 5 loss to the Falcons saw him limited to running just 16 routes and being targeted twice. He caught neither. ...

On the injury front. ... LB Jarrad Davis and S Marcus Maye, both sidelined by ankle injuries, are progressing. Saleh said "it's looking promising" for both to be ready to play Sunday at New England. ... LT Mekhi Becton is still "a few weeks away yet" from returning from a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve after Week 1, Saleh said.

"He's been working hard," Saleh said of Becton. "He's in pretty good shape and I know he's chomping at the bit to get back."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White
RBs: Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, Austin Walter, Tevin Coleman, Lamical Perine
WRs: Braxton Berrios, Elijah Moore, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith, Corey Davis
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin, Kenny Yeboah, Trevon Wesco

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Six games into the season, the Eagles are still seeking an identity.

As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi notes, Nick Sirianni's play-calling has been questionable, quarterback Jalen Hurts has been inconsistent and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon's unit struggles against elite teams.

"When you've struggled the way we've struggled the last two weeks, that's the question you ask yourself every time, what is our identity, what do we need to do? Those are conversations that we're obviously having as an offensive staff," Sirianni said Friday, several hours after a 28-22 loss to Tampa Bay that wasn't as close as the score indicated.

"We have strong convictions and strong feels of what we think it is. Now, do we know 100 percent what our identity is? No. I don't actually think anybody in the NFL knows 100 percent what their identity is right now in game six. I think you're still building - even the teams that have been together for a long time. ... We are growing, we are finding it out more and more each week, and obviously we're accelerating that as much as we possibly can to put our guys in the best position we possibly can put them in."

Change isn't coming.

"We're going to continue to do the things we've been doing as far as play-calling and game-planning," Sirianni said. "We feel like we have a good process there of how we go through it. I am fortunate that on this staff, I have guys that have experience calling games, which is helping me throughout games. So, we're going to continue to stick with that. We've got a lot of confidence in that, and we've just got to execute and do better, but confident in our process there."

That's fine. It would be better, however, if the process yielded results.

Outside of the first drive, which was aided by a 45-yard defensive pass interference penalty, the Eagles offense had no more than three plays on six straight possessions in the second and third quarters (five three-and-outs and one interception) against the Buccaneers.

"They came out and had a great plan," Hurts said. "Like I said, it is on us to be able to adjust, recognize what they are doing, and combat that. My mind doesn't change on any of this in terms of the mentality that it is on us. We control the destiny of everything we do, everything we touch, and everything we put our hands on. We have to be better and I have to be better for this football team. I have to be better."

Hurts struggled mightily early, unable to find the range on anything. The young QB was skipping passes, missing open targets, sailing passes high and long. It's the latest game in which Hurts has come out wobbly, unable to catch a groove until the game is out of reach.

Hurts finished 12-for-26 passing for 115 yards and a touchdown, an INT, and added 44 rushing yards on 10 attempts with two rushing scores.

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra suggested, Sirianni hasn't helped his young QB out much. The lack of a run game has riled up Philly fans who are at their wit's end with the lack of carries for Miles Sanders.

Sanders ran well when he got the ball, averaging 6.2 yards per carry against the NFL's stingiest run defense. But he needs to carry the ball more than nine times.

Sirianni was asked if leaning on run-pass options as their primary ground-game weapon puts too much pressure on Hurts to make the correct decision instead of just calling direct run plays.

"No, I don't think so," the coach responded. "He's been doing that a long time that his RPO game and how he reads things, so I don't believe that's an issue."

While trying to run at the Bucs' brick wall might not have been advisable last Thursday night, Sirianni's offense did little to try to help its young QB. There were very few easy throws. Hurts didn't even attempt a pass between the numbers less than 20 yards.

The coach's love of receiver screens has been figured out by defenses, making that outlet futile and putting the offense behind the sticks too often.

Hurts shouldered the blame for the inconsistent offense.

"I think I haven't executed well enough to win clearly," he said. "I take responsibility for that. I always take responsibility for that because the ball is in my hands every play, and I enjoy that, and I like that. I have to be better."

He's got a point.

At the very least, Hurts has to improve his accuracy. He completed only 46.2 percent of his passes against a depleted secondary missing four key members. It's his third time in six games under 60 percent. He is missing too many open throws. He extends plays with his legs and is a dynamic runner but the second-year pro still has plenty of work to do as a passer.

And putting all the onus on him is a big reason why the Philly offense has been a mess for weeks. Expecting a sudden turnaround heading into Sunday's game in Las Vegas seems like a reach. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Zach Ertz had the unique opportunity to play one more game in Philadelphia, knowing he would be traded to the Cardinals.

He scored a touchdown, spiked the ball and cried for 30 minutes at his locker after the Eagles lost to Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

On Friday, the deal was official. The Eagles sent the three-time Pro Bowl tight end to the undefeated Cardinals for cornerback Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round pick.

"This is home. Philadelphia is home," Ertz said, choking up a few times during an emotional video conference. "These people love their team, they love the Eagles, they love their players. This city loves their players. And they want to see us succeed as much if not more than we want to succeed. And so for me, it's what I loved about this place."

Ertz, who caught the winning touchdown TD pass in the Eagles' 41-33 victory over New England that brought the only Super Bowl victory to Philadelphia, already said goodbye to the city after last season but wasn't traded in the offseason. He entered the final year of his contract and his negotiations for an extension turned his relationship with the organization into an acrimonious one at times.

Still, Ertz showed up to training camp, vowed to put any bitterness in the past and played hard, as usual.

Ertz's departure clears the way for Dallas Goedert to be the clear No. 1 tight end. Goedert is also in the final year of his contract.

"There's no secret that that's, obviously, something here going forward that we have to address," general manager Howie Roseman said. "And so, getting him in a role where it's not just sharing time and he's the guy because in terms of our bargaining power, there's going to be no discount on Dallas Goedert. So, we know that, so we want to get as much information and give him as much opportunity to take over that and see him in that role as much as possible, as opposed to guessing on it. ..."

During the press conference to say goodbye Ertz, Roseman couldn't stop talking about a guy who has never played before: The Eagles really like Tyree Jackson.

That said, Jackson, 23, has never played a real game in the NFL. And the former University at Buffalo quarterback began his transition to tight end less than a year ago.

But what the Eagles saw at training camp was too good to ignore. Not only does Jackson have unteachable size and athleticism, but he was also incredibly smooth, caught the ball well, got in and out of his breaks and showed toughness. He has all the makings of a really good tight end. And for an organization that turned a rugby player into a starting left tackle, turning a quarterback into a tight end ought to be light work, right?

The Eagles showed how much they liked Jackson when they carried him on the 53-man roster despite his injury.

They did that so they wouldn't risk losing him and so they could have the option to bring him off IR and play him this season. It appears like the Eagles plan on doing that.

In recent weeks, Jackson has been seen during practice working on a side field with trainers. He's still on IR, but the Eagles are getting closer to activating his three-week practice window. At the time of the injury, the Eagles said recovery time was 8-10 weeks. The injury occurred on Aug. 17, so eight weeks was Oct. 12. We're now in the window.

In addition to Tyree, Roseman also mentioned the other two tight ends with the Eagles: Jack Stoll and Noah Togiai. Stoll has been on the roster all season as a UDFA but Roseman didn't seem as excited about him as he was Jackson.

"I think some of the circumstances that changed was getting the chance to see Tyree Jackson," Roseman said, "and wanted to see him in games as he comes back over the next couple of weeks."

The Eagles think they might have found something with Jackson. And it'll be exciting to watch him play when he eventually comes back. ...

All-Pro tackle Lane Johnson missed the last three games due to a personal matter. He will return this week.

Sirianni addressed Johnson's return Monday morning.

"Lane is a big part of everything we want to do here. He's a great player, great person. I look forward to seeing him in the building and getting him back out there ready to roll," Sirianni said.

Sirianni has preached the importance of connection with his players from the time he arrived.

"We just want our players to know that we're all here to support them at any time. Anything they're going through, good or bad, that's what a team does and that's what we do here," he added.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, Kenneth Gainwell
WRs: DeVonta Smith, A.J. Brown, Jalen Reagor, Zach Pascal, Greg Ward, Quez Watkins, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Tyree Jackson

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

The Steelers hit the field on Tuesday, not in preparation for their next game as they are heading into their bye week, but to work on different aspects that are things head coach Mike Tomlin would like to use the bye to clean up.

"Good day's work today focused on our performance from Seattle," said Tomlin. "Analyzed it, acknowledged some things, but more importantly than that, we're looking for some trends. Some things that need to be addressed. Issues for us in that game but have been issues for us. I think part of good coaching is eliminating known issues. So, I'm challenging the staff to make our known problems disappear and lead the charge in that regard.

"That's just the nature of this thing. We've got to continue to be a group on the rise. And when you don't have a combatant waiting on you at the end of the week, it's easier to get singularly focused on yourselves and your warts. One day's work is not going to do that. The work is somewhat ceremonial and an acknowledgement of those discussions. The key thing is to identify the areas that we need to work at and make a commitment in the days moving forward that we minimize some of those issues in an effort to increase our chances of winning.

"Those that need rest will get rest, those that need development will get opportunities for that. And that's what some of the 11-on-11 football was about, about pass under pressure, two-minute. It's just good growth opportunities for young and developing guys, first contract guys, backups, practice squad guys.

"At this point in the journey we acknowledge that we're going to need continued assistance from developing guys like that. We've called on some already, but just a natural attrition that is this game. We better be prepared, and they better be prepared for others to have an opportunity, and the strength of the pack is the strength of the pack.

"Those are some of the things that capture our attention, some of the things that we're focused on, on a day like today, in a bye week. Hadn't seen a bye week that I didn't like it. Always comes at the appropriate time."

The Steelers have won two straight following a 1/3 start and will have two weeks to get ready for a visit to Cleveland on Halloween.

"It's kind of crazy, don't know if it's really sunk in yet," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We got to our goal, which was to get to .500 before the bye, get healthy and get prepared for a long stretch."

Roethlisberger threw for 229 yards and a touchdown and rookie running back Najee Harris added 83 yards rushing and caught his second scoring toss of the season. Eric Ebron scored the third rushing touchdown of his career as the Steelers found creative ways to move the ball with star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster lost for the season with a shoulder injury.

"We've got a lot of players that can make plays," said Pittsburgh wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who caught nine passes for 71 yards. "They showed that."

Tomlin says he still hasn't received any "clarity" on why replay officials halted play in the final seconds of regulation last Sunday against Seattle.

The Seahawks were trailing by three with time winding down when wide receiver D.K. Metcalf caught the ball in Pittsburgh territory and turned upfield instead of stepping out of bounds.

Metcalf fumbled and teammate Freddie Swain recovered with the clock running. Seattle rushed to spike the ball, with the clock on the scoreboard - which is not the official game clock - hitting all zeroes, appearing to signal a Pittsburgh victory.

Officials, however, halted the celebration, saying Metcalf's catch was under review. The ruling on the field stood and the game clock was reset to 3 seconds remaining. Seattle quarterback Geno Smith spiked the ball with a second to go and Jason Myers came on to kick a 43-yard field goal that forced overtime.

While Pittsburgh ended up winning 23-20, Tomlin called the episode "an embarrassment" in the immediate aftermath.

Tomlin said Tuesday he did talk to league officials about what happened but stopped short of saying he was OK with the decision.

"I got an explanation, I wouldn't necessarily say I got clarity, but I'm not going to discuss it any further," Tomlin said. "It's in our rearview. It doesn't benefit me or us in any way to continue to hash it, rehash it. And so that's my position."

Asked if he believed the delay gave the Seahawks extra time to spike it and set up the field goal, Tomlin declined to get into specifics.

"I'm not acknowledging any other component of the conversation," Tomlin said. "I apologize. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... With JuJu Smith-Schuster out, it's been up to the entire receiving corps to pick up the slack in multiple areas. And the contributions are coming from all over, including Ray-Ray McCloud, who had two receptions for 18 yards against the Seahawks on Sunday night, including a 15-yarder.

"First, I want to thank God for the opportunity," said McCloud. "I know with JuJu going down it was a big thing for our team, our offense. Next man up mentality. As a team you have to be ready and prepared. I think we do a good job in our room preparing each other for that."

McCloud knows that Smith-Schuster is someone who has a good rapport with Roethlisberger, a trust that the quarterback can go to him and depend on him. That is something that McCloud has been working on building and continues to work on daily.

"JuJu brings a strong, smart, personality to the offense on the field," said McCloud. "I am just doing my job, gaining trust with Ben and the offense. Being able to have those plays when it mattered, and them being able to depend on me. When my numbers called. I make a play.

"Having last year to be able to come in later in camp, and then having an offseason with him and training camp this year, it's easier. It's going to start showing in the game.

"Practice is different than games. Being that trust factor in the game. Making the routine plays. Be Ray-Ray. I don't have to be Superman. I just need to make my plays when my number is called."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mitchell Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Cody White, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

The play so far this season from the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks has been mostly what was expected.

Jimmy Garoppolo has been solid but unspectacular but once again got hurt, showing why the Niners traded three first-round picks to take Trey Lance third overall in the spring.

The untested Lance has been up and down in his six quarters in place of Garoppolo, showing off the arm strength and running ability that made him a prized prospect but also some inaccuracy and questionable decision making that led to coach Kyle Shanahan's decision to open the season with Garoppolo as starter.

Now as the Niners (2-3) rest up in their bye week, the biggest question going forward is whether Lance showed enough in a half against Seattle and a loss at Arizona on Sunday to change the timeline of when he will take over for Garoppolo, assuming both recover from some minor injuries that kept them in town rehabbing this week.

"It doesn't change my opinion, big picture," Shanahan said. "Trey definitely has the ability to help us win games. I thought he was a big part of why we had a chance to win that game (against Arizona.) I just wish we could've played better around him, too. Not that he was perfect by any means, but he gave us a very good chance to win that game. ... But it's more of a decision than just which player do you want to go with? There's a whole team here. There's a lot more that goes into it.

"These three losses that we've had in a row, the answer good or bad is not just the quarterback. We've got to play better all around."

After opening the season with back-to-back road wins at Detroit and Philadelphia, the 49ers have fallen into a bit of a rut.

They allowed Aaron Rodgers to drive Green Bay to the winning score in the final 37 seconds in a Week 3 loss.

The special teams proved costly the following week in a loss to the Seahawks with a fumbled kickoff setting up a touchdown for Seattle.

Against the Cardinals in Week 5, the offense couldn't punch it in at the goal line early in the game and was stopped on three other fourth-down tries.

"So that's the main thing I try to stress to our team, that it's always going to be hard when you lose games in this league," Shanahan said. "But you can't let a narrative become your reality. You've got to watch the tape, you've got to work harder, you've got to get better at all these little details that come down to winning and losing in crucial moments."

But the biggest question remains at quarterback, where Garoppolo is hoping to be able to return from a calf injury to play against the Colts this week and Lance hopes a sprained left knee won't hold him out.

As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow notes, Shanahan has said Garoppolo will remain the starter when healthy, but how long that sticks remains to be seen. He has been unable to match his efficiency he had during the 2019 season when San Francisco went 13-3 and went to the Super Bowl. His completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating are all down from that season.

Lance has been up and down during his brief time so far. He threw a TD pass and ran for a score during brief action the first three weeks and then overcame a shaky first couple of drives to throw two TDs in the loss to the Seahawks.

He had an early interception against the Cardinals and completed just 51.7 percent of his passes, but also accounted for 281 yards through the air and on the ground.

But it has added up to three straight losses for a team that came into the season with Super Bowl aspirations.

"I'm trying to look at each game right now and we've lost three tough games in a row. Three games I think we could have won," Shanahan said. "We can clean things up and play a little bit better. So, I'm not thinking about that right now. I'm thinking about trying to beat Indy as soon as we come back."

It's worth noting, of course, the 49ers returned from their bye week on Monday and that provided the first chance to see how Garoppolo and Lance are faring with their injuries.

According to multiple reporters at the team's Monday practice session, Garoppolo was on the field but Lance was not.

The 49ers will not issue an injury report until Wednesday, so they don't have to share either player's participation level on Monday.

I'll be following up on that via Late-Breaking Update as the team goes through their prep for Sunday night's home game against the Colts.

Also of interest. ... Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk's role in the 49ers offense has been a matter of discussion all season.

He's played two-thirds of the offensive snaps, but has just eight catches for 90 yards and a touchdown through the first five games of the year. Shanahan said a few weeks ago that it was just a "matter of time" before the 2020 first-round pick began producing at a higher level and general manager John Lynch indicated last week that he'd like to see the wideout make that step.

During an appearance on KNBR last Tuesday, Lynch said "it's time to take that next step" and that it's "incumbent on everyone" to make sure that happens.

"The bottom line is we each have to find a way -- I'm talking we as a team and Brandon as a player -- because for us to get where we want to get, we need his talent and abilities on the field," Lynch said, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News. "Having said that, it's important you earn your opportunities. You do that during the week. It's not as if Brandon isn't working hard. For whatever reason, he hasn't made the strides we expect him to. We probably hold him to higher standards because he has so much in his body."

Lynch said the 49ers need the "explosiveness" that Aiyuk brings to the offense and they'll try to tap into it when they return against the Colts this week.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, JaMycal Hasty, Trey Sermon
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Ray-Ray McCloud, Malik Turner, Jauan Jennings, Mohamed Sanu, KeeSean Johnson
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Tanner Hudson, Charlie Woerner, Tyler Kroft

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson framed it, "A lot has to go right for the 2-4 Seahawks to keep their sinking season afloat while quarterback Russell Wilson recovers from his finger injury.

"They need their embattled defense to play like it did in the second half of Sunday night's 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers -- only with much more from their pass rush than the lone hit they managed against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger -- to avoid shootouts they're not equipped to win with Geno Smith at quarterback.

"They need Smith to excel as a game manager and avoid the killer turnovers like his lost fumble in overtime at Heinz Field. And they need a strong running game to make life easier on their backup quarterback."

Indeed, Smith's performance (23-of-32 for 209 yards) was the type of mixed bag you'd expect from a good QB2 who's familiar with the system but made two starts since 2014 prior to Sunday night. He led four scoring drives in the second half to help rally Seattle from a 14-0 deficit. He misfired on a few throws, took at least one bad sack and got stripped in overtime to set up Pittsburgh's game-winning field goal.

"It kills him because Geno knew these were extraordinary opportunities for him," head coach Pete Carroll said. "And he wants to come through and show that he can do it and play and all that. And it kills him that he wasn't able to finish it. But I thought he played tough as hell. And he was clear and calm and poised, exactly like you'd hope he would be. And this game was not too big for him at all. He was right there."

Smith's lone touchdown -- a pitch-and-catch throw to tight end Will Dissly in the flat at the goal line -- typified a predominantly underneath Seattle passing game against Pittsburgh. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Smith's throws traveled an average of 3.25 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, the Seahawks' lowest mark in any regular-season or playoff game under Carroll.

As for the decisive fumble, Smith noted he had both hands on the ball as he scrambled up the middle. But it was exposed enough for T.J. Watt to knock it out before Smith could tuck it away.

He mixed regret and resolve while putting the loss on his shoulders. Smith indirectly took the blame for his fourth-quarter interception that ended Seattle's comeback bid against the Los Angeles Rams last week, even though receiver Tyler Lockett either fell down or got tripped up before Smith's throw arrived.

"We can't keep coming up short," Smith told Henderson. "I can't keep coming up short. I put that on myself. Back-to-back weeks, our defense gives us a chance to go out there and score, gives me the ball, and we don't get it done. That's solely on me and I vow to be better."

Carroll all but vowed to hammer the run to help Smith out like he did in the second half against Pittsburgh.

After slogging their way through five punts, 65 yards of offense and no points over the first two quarters, the Seahawks came to life on the opening drive of the third by riding running back Alex Collins to the tune of eight carries for 58 yards and a touchdown.

Starting for the second straight week in place of an injured Chris Carson, Collins gained 101 yards on 20 carries before exiting in the fourth quarter, banged up by a pair of hard hits.

"I knew what we needed to do in this game and we needed to be really balanced, run the football and take the pressure off of Geno having stand back there and drop back and throw the ball against a wicked pass-rush," Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle on his weekly radio show. "It didn't show up [early] and we didn't get it done. Situations called for to try to battle for the next first down and all of that. We just didn't get it accomplished, and then we did. And you saw us.

"That's how we needed to play. That's how we need to play for the next couple weeks and on into the season. Really, that's how we played when we were at our best for years. And there's a lot of people that gripe and complain about running the football and all that. But you saw, we scored 20 points in the second half ... We did it by controlling the football, which was the strength of our team."

Collins became the first Seahawk to rush for 100 yards or more in a game since Carson had 133 in Week 15 in 2019. But Collins' status for Seattle's Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints is up in the air.

Collins got up slowly after he was taken down on a 16-yard run in the fourth quarter that was negated by a penalty. He carried twice for minus-2 yards on the next series but didn't get another touch, giving way to running backs DeeJay Dallas (who finished with nine touches for 50 yards) and Travis Homer (three for 54) for the remainder of the game.

The Seahawks won't know about Collins' status for the Saints game until later in the week. Carson (neck) has to miss at least two more games -- New Orleans and Nov. 1 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars -- before he can return off injured reserve. The same goes for Wilson.

Carroll said running back Rashaad Penny (calf) is returning off IR this week.

"It's extremely important that he comes back to us now and helps out in the running game and all that," Carroll said of Penny, via Liz Mathews of USAToday.com. "I'm really excited for him. It's been a long year and return and all that for him. It's been really frustrating for him. He's really raring to go."

Penny had two carries for eight yards in the season opener before hurting his calf.

It'll be up to some combination of Collins, Penny, Dallas and Homer to mount a running game Smith and Seattle's offense can lean on.

As Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth suggested, Seattle's hopes of remaining relevant in the NFC playoff race could come down to Monday's matchup with New Orleans. Win their next two games, both at home, and the Seahawks would go into the bye week at 4-4 and await further clarity on when their starting quarterback may be able to return. ...

Of some interest. ... Sunday night's bizarre decision to review whether receiver DK Metcalf caught the ball before fumbling it helped deflect from Metcalf's bizarre decision to not get out of bounds after catching it.

But not completely.

As Profootballtalk.com notes, Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe called out Metcalf, claiming that Metcalf was playing "hero ball" by trying to score the game-winning touchdown instead of setting up a game-tying field goal.

Said Metcalf in response, "Stop questioning me lil boy."

Sharpe said there's nothing to question, that it's a "dumb ass" play. And, for good measure, Sharpe went career scoreboard on Metcalf, saying that he can't question anything Sharpe has done - and that Metcalf should "pray" his accomplishments will match Sharpe's.

Metcalf took it to the next level, making a scatological reference to Sharpe's accomplishments and saying, "Continue to gossip you washed up wanna be."

It's possible Metcalf doesn't actually know anything about Sharp's career. Also possible he might want to look it up to gain an understanding of where valid criticism might come from. ...

And finally. ... Wilson went through a workout before Sunday night's game. The quarterback simulated a series of plays, huddling by himself and going through the motions without throwing the ball.

He was ever present during the game, too, standing next to Carroll, consulting with Smith, using a tablet to review the Steelers defensive looks and participating in the overtime coin toss. Wilson's streak of 165 consecutive starts ended Sunday night.

"Definitely different for me," Wilson told Gregg Bell of The News Tribune.

Since he is on injured reserve, Wilson is required to miss three games. The earliest he can return is Nov. 14 at Green Bay, a week after Seattle's bye week. His prognosis was 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair a torn tendon and dislocated middle finger on his right hand.

Carroll was asked Monday whether Wilson might return sooner than expected.

"I don't know that, not the medical side of this thing," Carroll said. "But I know Russell. If it's possible, it'll happen. If it's possible, it's going to happen.

"I don't know if you guys saw him last night and the way he was preparing and going after it. He is not going to miss a trick. So, I don't but anything past him, beyond his capabilities. He can do some special stuff. We'll see what happens."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Lock, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Rashaad Penny, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Adrian Peterson, Chris Carson, Alex Collins
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Freddie Swain, Marquise Goodwin, Penny Hart, D'Wayne Eskridge
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra pointed out last week, Leonard Fournette has impressed on a weekly basis, building on his "Playoff Lenny" proficiency from last season.

In last Thursday's 28-22 win in Philadelphia, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead back pummeled his way through the defensive line and made mincemeat out of Eagles linebackers in coverage. Fournette had a season-high 22 carries for 81 yards and two rushing scores. He also added six receptions for 46 yards, displaying an ability to break tackles in space.

As the clear RB1 in Tampa, Fournette has shown signs of being the runner many thought he could be coming out of LSU.

"No. 1, I think I'm just blessed to be in this position," Fournette said Thursday, per the Tampa Bay Times. "From being cut (by the Jaguars in 2020) now to being a part of helping this organization and this team win, I'm going to start with that. And also, my coaches and my teammates trusting me, knowing and believing I can get the job done at the end of the day.

"When you have that, my teammates plus my support from my family and my kids, everybody back in (his native) New Orleans, the sky's the limit for me."

The Bucs are using Fournette as their workhorse. He took 46 of the offensive snaps Thursday (63 percent), compared to just 13 for Ronald Jones and 12 for Giovani Bernard.

"Lenny's been really, really good, really solid -- run and pass, and pass protection," head coach Bruce Arians said. "He's playing as a really good three-down back right now at a high level."

Fournette said his impressive play this season stems from fully understanding the offense in Year 2 in Tampa.

"I came in two weeks before our first game, so just having that year under my belt makes a big difference understanding it," Fournette said. "Especially playing with my guys for a year--trusting them and them trusting me -- the lack of trust and accountability is done on both sides."

As if the Bucs offense needed another weapon, Fournette's emergence as a reliable runner, and a pass catcher that Tom Brady trusts, adds another dimension to an already scary offense.

Fournette's emergence has been fortuitous because Tampa Bay's injury-riddled defense has yet to hit its stride this season. However, the Buccaneers continue to thrive with an offense that's become even more potent with Fournette in the mix.

And it's not just using him on the ground.

As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall pointed out, the Bucs have made a conscious effort to get the fifth-year pro more involved in the passing attack the past three games, and Fournette has embraced the expanded role that's eased some of the burden on Brady.

"To be honest, it is just hard work," Fournette said. "Throughout the week, we had a game plan and I try and follow that as much as I can down to the core to help my team out and put us in a better position. That is all I am doing."

Brady made a call to Fournette when the running back was released by the Jaguars, encouraging him to consider joining the Bucs. The two of them frequently spend extra time after practice working on pass routes.

"He's trying to tell me what he likes, what he thinks the route should be, and I just follow," Fournette said.

"He's a great back. He's big, tough, catches it, runs, blocks, does everything for us," Brady said. "Great to have him in there. Obviously when he's rolling, it's tough to stop us."

Also. ... It's tough to stop Brady.

The veteran signal caller leads the NFL in passing yards (2,064) and touchdowns (17) versus three interceptions, one in the past four games. Antonio Brown had another big game against the Eagles, finishing with nine receptions for 93 yards and a TD.

Last week, Brady had made it known that his bum right thumb was "no serious injury at all."

Other than the tape that surrounded it, Brady's thumb certainly didn't look to be a hindrance.

Asked if the extra days of recovery will do him well following the Thursday night game, Brady took the opening to reassure that he was indeed, fine and dandy and no worse for the wear with his injured thumb.

"It's football season, so I'm just prepared to play football," Brady said. "I feel great, I really do."

For the record, last Thursday was the 112th time in Brady's career in which he attempted at least 40 passes in a game but the first of those in which he completed over 80 percent of his attempts.

The Bears will clearly have their work cut out for them this weekend when they travel to Tampa for this one. ...

On the injury front. ... The Buccaneers returned to the facility on Tuesday for a walkthrough practice session.

Reporters at the session noted that tight end Rob Gronkowski was not in attendance. Gronkowski has missed the last three games with injured ribs and has not taken part in any practices since being injured in the team's Week 3 loss to the Rams.

Brown (ankle) was not on hand for the start of Wednesday's practice.

Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was at the practice after missing Week Six with a concussion, but head coach Bruce Arians told reporters that he has not been cleared through the concussion protocol at this point. Linebacker Lavonte David, who missed last Thursday with an ankle injury, and cornerback Richard Sherman, who left the game with a hamstring injury, were also in attendance.

The Bucs will release an injury report after Wednesday's practice and that will shed more light on who might be able to play against the Bears in Week 7.

By the way. ... With Gronk out, tight end O.J. Howard is back in the mix after missing most of 2020 with an Achilles tendon injury. He had his best game of the season with six catches for 49 yards and a TD against Philadelphia.

"Juice is getting better and better," Arians said. "He's stepped up every week."

I'll have more on Brown and Gronkowski via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Giovani Bernard
WRs: Russell Gage, Mike Evans, Cyril Grayson, Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, Jaelon Darden, Scott Miller, Chris Godwin
TEs: Cameron Brate

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

As NFL.com's Adam Maya reported it, "Derrick Henry is producing the best encore to a 2,000-yard season in NFL history. The show continued Monday night with another virtuoso performance.

"In a battle of division leaders, the Titans' All-Pro provided thunder and lightning like only he can. ..."

Henry rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns as Tennessee edged Buffalo, 34-31.

Henry surpassed 100 yards rushing for the fifth straight game. It's the third time this season he finished with at least three touchdowns in a game. Henry now has 10 touchdowns on the ground, which ties him with former running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Priest Holmes for the second-most rushing touchdowns through the first six games of the season.

The Titans are 5-0 when Henry runs for three or more touchdowns.

So the high-end production is nothing new.

Except it was.

Henry hasn't experienced such success against the Bills. In three meetings over the previous three seasons, he averaged just 63.6 yards and 3.8 yards per carry while scoring three times overall.

That wasn't lost on Henry, nor did it distract him.

"My running backs coach messed with me all week about it," Henry said to ESPN on the postgame broadcast. "But I just stay focused on what I need to do, how I can help this team. Not focus on the past or the past matchups. Just go out there and play my game and help my team win."

No one did that more than Henry in the prime-time affair. He punctuated his dominant effort with a 13-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to give the Titans the three-point margin they'd win by. His other two scores also put Tennessee ahead in what was a wild, back-and-forth affair between two teams with legitimate title aspirations.

Prone to slow starts, Henry electrified the Nissan Stadium crowd early in the second quarter by barreling through one defender before blazing past several more during a 76-yard scoring scamper.

"We continue to jump on Derrick's back and he's willing able to carry us," head coach Mike Vrabel said. "And it's something that you know that you have in your back pocket and front pocket and we use it and it gave us a big shot of life there."

It was Henry's longest run of the year and the fifth of his career spanning at least 70 yards. He reached a top speed of 21.8 mph, the highest mark of his career and of any ball carrier in 2021, per Next Gen Stats.

"Still too slow," Henry joked. "I'm from Florida, so Florida boys, it's in the water. If you're from Florida, you got to have speed."

Buffalo tried unsuccessfully to stop Henry by stacking eight in the box.

That opened up the play-action passing game for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who found A.J. Brown seven times for 91 yards -- his best game of the season.

"I just love to come out here and try to be the best player and teammate I can," Henry said. "Come out here and try to take advantage of my opportunities and make plays for this team. Whatever I can do to help us win, I am willing to do."

Monday marked the third time he's topped 125 yards and three rushing touchdowns this year, tying the mark for the most instances in a single season in the Super Bowl era, per NFL Research. Of course, the current campaign is all of six weeks old. On Wednesday, Henry was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season.

Henry's 783 yards on the season are 260 more than No. 2 rusher Nick Chubb. His 10 touchdowns are twice as many as the closest challengers. He led the NFL in both categories the past two seasons. No one has pulled it off in three straight.

The 6-3, 247-pound bruiser made sure to note that he isn't doing it alone.

"The credit goes to those guys up front, working every day, pushing each other, fighting, pushing the piles, blocking tight ends, fullbacks, all the credit goes to them," Henry said. "I just got to do my job. They make my job easy. Those guys just having the will to want to be better each and every play, each and every week, just that mentality."

With 11 games remaining, he's already more than halfway to matching Barry Sanders' record for the most rushing yards in a season after hitting the 2K mark (1,491). The emerging all-timer is also well ahead of his own historic pace from a year ago.

Next up, the Titans will find themselves in another shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs who field a defense that has allowed eight completions of 40 yards or more, which is the most in the NFL.

What needs work?

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker notes, even after a solid passing night against Buffalo, the Titans rank 27th in the NFL, averaging 220.5 yards passing, and Tannehill has had one 300-yard passing game this season.

An improved passing game will ease the burden on Henry while creating more holes for the NFL rushing leader.

The Titans saw several players leave Monday night's win over the Bills with injuries, including wide receiver Julio Jones.

Jones had missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury, but returned to the starting lineup on Monday. He had three catches for 59 yards, including a 48-yarder he grabbed after it caromed off the helmet of Bills safety Micah Hyde, before leaving the game with more hamstring issues.

Vrabel said the team will see how Jones fares in the coming days before making any decisions about his availability for their date with the Chiefs.

"We're just going to take it day by day," Vrabel said, via Ben Arthur of the Tennessean.

The Titans also had Brown dealing with food poisoning, but he was able to play through the finish and led the team in receiving.

I'll have more on Jones via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Beyond that, cornerback Caleb Farley and wide receiver Cameron Batson suffered torn ACLs.

Farley was a first-round pick this spring and his rookie year started with him recovering from back surgery. A shoulder injury in the opener kept him out for three games before he returned in Week Five. With Kristian Fulton on injured reserve, Farley made his first and last start as a rookie on Monday night.

The Titans also saw cornerback Chris Johnson leave with a foot injury, so they may be in the market for help on that front in the coming days.

Batson was injured on a kickoff return at the end of the first half. He had two catches for 15 yards and a touchdown and two carries for 15 yards this season.

Left tackle Taylor Lewan also left with a concussion, so it was a busy night for the Titans' medical staff across the board.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dontrell Hilliard, Khari Blasingame, Trenton Cannon, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Chester Rogers, Racey McMath, Dez Fitzpatrick, Cameron Batson, Robert Woods
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Austin Hooper, MyCole Pruitt

Washington Football Team

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 October 2021

Ron Rivera said Monday he is not considering replacing Taylor Heinicke with Kyle Allen as Washington's starting quarterback.

As Associated Press sports writer Stephen Whyno notes, that means Heinicke is set to make his sixth consecutive start Sunday at the Green Bay Packers. Heinicke was 24 of 39 for 172 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 31-13 loss to Kansas City that dropped Washington to 2-4.

"I've been very confident in what we've done with Taylor," Rivera said. "Not every week's going to be as productive as people want it to be, as we want it to be, so we'll just have to see and we'll see what happens going forward."

Heinicke has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 1,390 yards, nine TDs and six INTs since replacing injured No. 1 quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the season opener. With Fitzpatrick on injured reserve with a right hip injury, Allen is the only other QB on the roster.

Fitzpatrick is scheduled to have an MRI this week to update his recovery. His estimated recovery time was six to eight weeks.

But Rivera believes Heinicke is showing signs of growth and will improve with more experience. Counting the wild-card game in the playoffs last season, Heinicke has only started seven NFL games.

His play against Kansas City was nothing special, and Washington finished with just 276 yards and its lowest point total of the season.

"We just couldn't put it together," Heinicke said. "It was frustrating. But we'll get better."

Washington will have to be much better to compete against Aaron Rodgers and the NFC North-leading Packers, who opened as a 9½-point favorite.

But ESPN.com's John Keim contends that a microcosm of the Football Team's season could be seen in both halves of Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

It's a sign of where they are -- and why any preseason optimism has faded.

The reason Washington has a 2-4 record heading into Sunday's road game against Green Bay is because it struggles to play consecutive good halves, let alone games.

Washington has a tougher schedule this season, which has played into its sluggish start. It already has lost to the Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Chiefs -- three teams considered among the best in the AFC and strong Super Bowl contenders. Two games after facing the 5-1 Packers, Washington will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1).

"We did lose to four good teams, but we could have also beat a couple of them," Rivera said Sunday. "That's the hard thing to swallow if you're going to be honest with it. You are what your record says you are. The only way we can get better is to practice, work at it and then go out and play better. And that's pretty much what we have left."

This isn't just about trying to climb into contention for a playoff berth; it's about establishing an identity to build on moving forward -- beyond 2021.

"We have to handle adversity," Rivera said. "We have to play two halves of football."

We'll see if they can start heading that direction in Green Bay this weekend. ...

We'll also see if Antonio Gibson is part of it.

Gibson has been playing through a shin injury that he recently revealed is a stress fracture. He was questionable against the Chiefs. Gibson did suit up versus the reigning AFC champions, but after ten carries for 44 yards, he would aggravate the shin injury, which limited the impact the 23-year-old had in the game.

With Gibson struggling with his injured shin, J.D. McKissic received most of the work in the running game in the second half with eight carries for 45 yards.

After the loss to Kansas City, Rivera commented on the Gibson injury and why they decided to go with McKissic.

"We'll see how he is. We did take him out at the end of the game because he was struggling with it a little, so we have to be careful and see how he responds. I don't know much more than that. We'll see how he is [Monday] morning," Rivera said.

I'll have more on Gibson via Late-Breaking Update in coming days while reminding you that Terry McLaurin, who played through a tender hamstring last week, Curtis Samuel, who sat out against the Chiefs due to his ongoing groin injury, and Cam Sims, who has missed two games with a hamstring injury, all bear watching.

Gibson, McLaurin, Samuel, Sims and Ricky Seals-Jones, who has a quad injury, all sat out Wednesday.

If Gibson can't go, watch undrafted rookie Jaret Patterson, who would likely get a share of the early-down work alongside McKissic. ...

And finally. ... The Football Team released veteran kicker Dustin Hopkins on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old had been with the club since 2015, kicking in 93 games.

Washington promoted Chris Blewitt to the active roster from the practice squad.

Hopkins generated an 84 percent field goal rate in six-plus seasons in D.C. In 2021, he converted 12 of 14 field-goal tries in six games and missed two extra points, both in Week 4. He botched a 42-yard field goal attempt in Washington's Week 6 loss to Kansas City.

Blewitt, a Pitt product, was last on a roster with the Chicago Bears in the summer of 2019 and has never kicked in an NFL game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Carson Wentz, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, Jaret Patterson, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Cam Sims, Adam Humphries, Dyami Brown, Curtis Samuel
TEs: John Bates, Sammis Reyes, Ricky Seals-Jones, Logan Thomas